By Kim Gardner
I want to start by saying it has been an honor of a lifetime to serve the people of the City of St. Louis, a community that is resilient and deeply committed to finding solutions to make life better for everyone. During my time as Circuit Attorney, I have tried to embody those values. I believe that is why St. Louis voters elected me twice.
Unfortunately, since the time I took office, as the first Black, female prosecutor in the State, people outside of the city have targeted me and, to advance their goals, have also targeted the fundamental rights of the city’s voters. In recent days, for example, The Missouri State Legislature began hearings on a bill that appears to permanently remove the right of every St. Louis voter to elect their Circuit Attorney, the only remaining elected position in our city’s criminal justice system. Instead, that bill gives the Governor the power to appoint our city’s chief prosecutor. It is hard to think of a more direct or brutal assault on our democracy, one that mirrors the attacks in Jackson, Mississippi, and throughout Florida.
It is not the first time the legislature has proposed bills that would take away our city’s power- that has happened in nearly every legislative session since I took office. It is also clear to me, however, that as long as I remain in the office, it will not be the last.
St. Louis is already one of a few jurisdictions in Missouri that does not elect its Circuit judges. The Governor has wielded that power since 1970, when St. Louis opted into the ironically named “Nonpartisan Missouri Court Plan.” That makes the position of elected prosecutor particularly sacred in our city. An elected prosecutor is our city’s sole opportunity to have a say in its community’s criminal justice system. The proposed bill strips that right from all ofus. !fl can stop that from happening, I will, even if that necessitates my considering leaving the office to which you have elected me.
This most recent bill is a part of a coordinated, long-standing strategy to undermine me and my efforts to make the City of St. Louis safer and fairer. Since day one of my tenure as Circuit Attorney, I have experienced attacks on my reforms, on my judgment, on my integrity, on my prosecutorial discretion, on my responsibility to direct the limited resources of this office and more.
Some of these attacks seem designed to stop the office from functioning, at the expense of public safety. We have experienced an onslaught of records requests that no office in the country could reasonably fulfill, along with attacks on our hard-working line attorneys designed to demoralize these public servants. There is no sign that the onslaught would stop for as long as I am in the office.
I can absorb those attacks, and I have. But I can neither enable nor allow the outright disenfranchisement of the people of the City of St. Louis, nor can 1 allow these outsiders to effectively shut down our important work. If not for these two things, 1 would continue to fight tirelessly to maintain the job you selected me to serve. Under my leadership, and with your support, this office has made tremendous strides in redefining public safety. We have established innovative prosecutor-led diversion programs, significantly reduced police misconduct, created pathways to successfully overturn wrongful convictions, and won justice for victims in the most violent cases. We have expanded public health interventions and ramped up our victim’s services to bring trauma-informed care to those most in need of it. We have achieved so many important victories together.
But I cannot be the final Circuit Attorney ever to be elected in St. Louis. You must be able to have a voice in your criminal justice system. And we must allow our office to continue to operate.
I will forever remain a tireless advocate for all who call our beautiful city home. Public safety particularly in states where poverty and disinvestment exist, there is a coordinated intent on taking away the rights we hold dear-to live free from devastating gun violence, to control our own bodies, to have a voice in our communities – and they are willing to sacrifice democracy to do it. If we allow this to succeed, we may never get these rights back.
The most powerful weapon [ have to fight back against these outsiders stealing your voices and your rights is to step back. I took this job to serve the people of the City of St. Louis, and that’s still my North Star.
And so, it is with a heavy heart but steadfast resolve that I am resigning my position as your Circuit Attorney, effective June 1st.
St. Louis Circuit Attorney