Gov. Parson’s General Counsel temporarily appointed to St. Louis Circuit Attorney after Kim Gardner resigns

The governor will pick a replacement by Friday.
Kim Gardner requests a new judge
Kim Gardner requests a new judge
Published: May. 16, 2023 at 11:46 AM CDT|Updated: May. 17, 2023 at 11:53 AM CDT
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner resigned effective Tuesday.

On Tuesday night, Kelli Jones, the Communications Director for Governor Mike Parson’s office, told News 4 that after legal discussions, the Governor’s General Counsel, Evan Rodriguez, has been temporarily appointed as Circuit Attorney until Parson appoints the next St. Louis Circuit Attorney.

Gov. Mike Parson's General Counsel, Evan Rodriguez, has been appointed to St. Louis Circuit...
Gov. Mike Parson's General Counsel, Evan Rodriguez, has been appointed to St. Louis Circuit Attorney until a new permanent appointee is named.(Missouri Governor's Office)

The Missouri Governor’s Office told News 4 Gardner would step down late Tuesday morning. The St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office later issued a statement regarding the resignation on Twitter. The statement mentioned that the Circuit Attorney has “worked with St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell and his office to ensure a comprehensive transition plan is in place to handle cases that prioritizes public safety.”

Bell was seen at the Circuit Attorney’s office Tuesday along with members of his top staff. He declined to comment to News 4. Gardner was not seen at the courthouse. While the Circuit Attorney’s Office said it is working with Bell on a transition, they did not state if he would be temporarily taking over.

In an afternoon news conference, a spokesperson for Bell said they were prepared to take over and assist, but they had not yet been given the legal authority to do so. Parson said he did not speak with Bell on Tuesday.

The following day, News 4 obtained the request Gardner filed with the court to make Bell an interim “Transition Manager.” The memo was not okayed by the courts.

Gov. Parson did meet with St. Louis City Mayor Tishaura Jones on Tuesday to discuss the needs of the Circuit Attorney’s Office, according to a statement from the mayor’s office. The statement said that the Mayor and Governor agreed that restoring faith to the office is important to a functioning criminal justice system in the city. In Part, the statement said:

Mayor Jones appreciates Governor Parson’s commitment to engaging St. Louis’ elected and community leaders as he makes this critical decision, as well as St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell for his willingness to extend assistance in the interim. We remain ready to support the Circuit Attorney’s Office through this transition.

Nick Dunne, Public Information Officer for the St. Louis Mayor's Office.

Parson said he will pick Gardner’s replacement by Friday, and that the Missouri Attorney General’s Office would assist in the interim. Deputy Attorney General Judge Bill Corrigan and his team will “immediately receive referrals from police and start the process of clearing the backlogs of cases” until a new Circuit Attorney is appointed, Bailey said.

Bailey told News 4 that Corrigan has received appointment paperwork from the governor and has been in contact with the circuit court. He also said Corrigan will be in contact with the St. Louis Police Department “make sure we’re holding wrongdoers accountable starting now.”

Deputy Attorney General Judge Bill Corrigan
Deputy Attorney General Judge Bill Corrigan(Missouri Attorney General's Office)

Kelli Jones told News 4 that Judge Corrigan and Rodriguez will be in St. Louis Wednesday and they’re going to assess and talk with employees. She said they hope in the next few days to get an accurate assessment of caseloads and the number of cases that the office is handling.

Gardner initially planned to resign on June 1. She announced in early May she was stepping down amid accusations by Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey that she had neglected the duties of her office. Bailey launched an effort to oust her from office, and since then, multiple assistant prosecutors have resigned. After Gardner announced she would step down in early June, Bailey said she should resign immediately and announced the process to remove her from office would continue.

A judge called the Circuit Attorney’s Office “a rudderless ship of chaos” during a contempt hearing. The hearing was connected to the case of a shooting of an 11-year-old girl. Steven Linell Vincent Jr., 28, was charged in 2021 with four counts each of armed criminal action and unlawful use of a weapon after a gunshot went through the 11-year-old’s bedroom window and hit her in the arm. The incident happened in the 1300 block of Garrison Avenue in October 2020.

The judge in the case said an attorney in Gardner’s office, Chris Desilets, did not show up for trial on April 10 or a counsel status hearing. A special prosecutor was appointed after the hearing to determine if Gardner’s office would be held in contempt.

In a joint statement, Bell, along with prosecutors from St. Charles County, Lincoln County, Franklin County, Warren County, and Jefferson County, announced they will help the governor’s appointee to the office during the transition.

“St. Louis regional prosecutors have been in communication and have pledged to work together in a collaborative effort to assist the Governor’s appointee in a regional effort to pitch in and provide expertise and legal advice in any manner we can.

The regional advisory group is also willing to assist the interim prosecutor in any legal way, shape or form as directed by the Governor or Attorney General.”

Prosecutors Wesley Bell(St. Louis County), Joseph McCulloch(St. Charles County), Mike Wood(Lincoln County), Matthew Becker(Franklin County), Kelly King(Warren County), Trisha Stefanski(Jefferson County)

After the announcement of her resignation, Gardner filed a motion to dismiss the quo warranto filed by Bailey.

“This quo warranto proceeding has therefore been rendered moot and should be dismissed,” read part of the filing.

In a statement after the resignation announcement, Bailey did not mention the quo warranto petition.

“The Circuit Attorney has finally heeded my call to resign after undermining the rule of law for years. Today, we begin the process of restoring public safety to the City of St. Louis. Upon the Governor’s authority to appoint the Attorney General’s Office to assist, I am sending Deputy Attorney General, Judge Bill Corrigan, and his team today to immediately receive referrals from police and start the process of clearing the backlog of cases until the Governor appoints the newest Circuit Attorney.”

Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey

In 2016, Kim Gardner made history as the first Black person to be elected as the St. Louis Circuit Attorney. She was overwhelmingly re-elected in 2020, and often focused on her attempts to reform the criminal justice system.

One of her most memorable moments was the indictment and subsequent dismissal of then-Governor Eric Greitens in 2018. This lead to his resignation, and also lead to her being reprimanded by the Supreme Court for her handling of the case.

Gardner filed a motion to vacate Lamar Johnson’s murder conviction, which a judge granted earlier this year.

She was under scrutiny starting in February after a defendant out on bond allegedly caused of a crash causing a 17-year-old volleyball player to lose her legs.

In the days before her resignation, Gardner filed a motion to overturn the conviction of Christopher Dunn, who was convicted of killing a man in 1990.