St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner's Office Has Lost One-Third of Their Prosecutors Since February

“A rudderless ship of chaos” is how Circuit Judge Michael Noble characterized the office of St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner last Thursday during a hearing to show cause as to why Gardner and another of her prosecutors should not be held in contempt of court for failing to appear at an April 10th jury trial over the shooting of an 11-year-old girl.


Gardner did not appear herself at that hearing, but rather sent Assistant Circuit Attorney Rob Huq as her designee, along with her retained counsel, Michael Downey. Assistant Circuit Attorney Chris Desilets, whose failure to appear for the April 10th trial was the subject of the hearing, was present and had this exchange with Judge Noble:

In fact, Desilets said to the judge, “Every lawyer is late to a division every day unless he’s unemployed.” Under close questioning from the judge, he further explained that he meant this as a way of noting the busy schedule of attorneys covering multiple dockets and the culture and practice of the circuit. Noble appeared unimpressed by this explanation, as well as with the fact that the “designee” who Gardner selected to appear for her (Assistant Circuit Attorney Rob Huq) wasn’t particularly familiar with the investigation into what had led to the (multiple) missed court dates.

Ultimately, Judge Noble found “sufficient evidence of disdain and disrespect for the judicial process to determine that both Ms. Gardner and Mr. Desilets’ conduct support a finding of indirect criminal contempt,” and set the matter for hearing on May 30th.

Now, Desilets has joined the host of other prosecutors who’ve abandoned Gardner’s “rudderless ship.”

Nearly one-third of the attorneys in St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly M. Gardner’s office have left in the past two months, including two more in recent days, leaving a decimated staff to handle thousands of criminal and child support cases in the city.

Assistant Circuit Attorney Alex Polta left the office Friday, and his colleague, Chris Desilets, resigned Monday after both were thrust into the spotlight during recent proceedings to determine if Gardner should be held in contempt of court. Desilets and Polta were the longest-tenured violent felony prosecutors in Gardner’s office, joining shortly after she took the helm in 2017, according to a February staff roster.


In mid-April, as we reported, Natalia Ogurkiewicz left the office, citing a “toxic work environment” and an “untenable” workload. That followed the departure of Gardner’s chief trial assistant, Marvin Teer, in March. Now, the office is down to roughly 23 prosecutors.

In their wake, a rotating crew of supervisors and low-level felony and misdemeanor attorneys have taken on the city’s most serious cases.

A spokeswoman for Gardner’s office acknowledged the recent departures in a statement but said it hasn’t stopped “the hardworking men and women who review and issue cases on a daily basis.” She said the office had received resumes from “qualified attorneys” but did not respond to a question about whether any new attorneys had been hired since February.

But the raft of departures is continuing to create fallout for victims of violent crimes and criminal defendants alike.

Desilets had been set to appear in Noble’s courtroom again Monday morning for a pair of murder cases. The defendants, Javonn Nettles and Andre Anderson, are accused of killing 7-year-old Dmyah Fleming and her father, Darrion Rankin-Fleming two years ago.

Defense attorneys have asked Noble to dismiss the case for good because prosecutors already dismissed and refiled Nettles’ case twice and Anderson’s once. Despite all the delays, they’ve still failed to turn over evidence, attorneys said.

For the family of Dmyah and Rankin-Fleming, the news that Desilets had quit and another prosecutor would be assigned to the case elicited a chorus of groans.

For Terry Niehoff, who represents Nettles, it was yet another setback for his client, who had been jailed for two years while facing the charges. Niehoff blamed Gardner’s management for understaffing, evidence problems and repeated delays.

“It’s a pattern and practice of being negligent,” he said.


During the April 19th hearing in front of Judge John Torbitzky on the quo warranto proceedings brought by Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey, former Judge Booker T. Shaw, who now represents the judges of the 22nd Judicial Circuit in that matter, addressed the court with his concerns over any undue delay in the proposed trial setting in that case.

Shaw has been hired by the judges of the 22nd Circuit Court. All of those judges recused themselves from handling this case for good reason: they might be called as witnesses. That’s why the Missouri Supreme Court appointed Torbitzky to handle the case. It’s why Shaw stood to address the court.

The situation, Shaw told Torbitzky, is “untenable and unsustainable.” Gardner’s office, he said, is in “near total collapse.”

Gardner has now asked for a change of judge in that matter (to which she is entitled under the rules), but the Attorney General’s office has requested that Torbitzky be allowed to rule on the motions already heard by him so as not to delay those proceedings — which currently have a September 25th trial setting — further.

Kim Gardner’s rudderless ship has been taking on water for years. It’s clear the ship is sinking, so it won’t be surprising at all if even more attorneys exit in the coming weeks while Gardner instructs the band to play on.

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