ST. LOUIS (AP) — St. Louis Circuit attorney Kim Gardner has reached a settlement with the Missouri Office of Disciplinary Counsel in which she acknowledges errors in her handling of the lawsuit against former Missouri Governor Eric Greitens, however, will not face harsh penalties for those mistakes.
The “joint stipulation” agreement was announced Monday at the start of a disciplinary hearing before a three-person panel. In the settlement, Gardner admits she failed to produce documents and incorrectly argued that all documents were provided to Greitens’ attorneys in the 2018 criminal case.
The agreement states that Gardner’s conduct “was negligent or possibly reckless, but not intentional.”
He calls for a written reprimand. A harsher sentence — suspension or disbarment — would likely cost Gardner his job because state law requires elected prosecutors to hold active law licenses.
The panel is still expected to sign the agreement and make a recommendation within 30 days to the Missouri Supreme Court, which ultimately decides on punishment. It’s unclear when the court could issue a final ruling.
Gardner, a 46-year-old Democrat, is St. Louis’ first black circuit attorney and one of many progressive female prosecutors elected in recent years in an effort to create more fairness in the criminal justice system. She told the panel on Monday that the errors were due to the fast-paced nature of the Greitens case.
“Yes, we had a process. But unfortunately that process failed,” she said, adding that her office took the case as a “lesson” to move forward.
Greitens’ 2018 lawsuit played a pivotal role in his eventual resignation. Greitens is now trying a political return and is a leading contender for the Republican nomination for a Senate seat, despite recent allegations of abuse by his ex-wife.
“Gardner represents the worst of the establishment and dishonest officials who use their absolute power to target innocent, law-abiding individuals, from the governor of Missouri to police officers to ordinary citizens,” Greitens said in a statement. “The people of Missouri deserve better.”
The brash former Navy SEAL officer with presidential aspirations was a year into his first term when news broke in January 2018 of an affair three years earlier with his St. Louis hairstylist. The woman alleged that Greitens took a compromising photo and threatened to use it as blackmail if she spoke about their relationship.
“There was a victim, someone who said they were assaulted,” Gardner’s attorney, Michael Downey, said in an interview.
But neither the FBI nor the St. Louis police seemed inclined to investigate, Downey said. Gardner’s internal investigator was on military duty.
So Gardner hired private detective William Tisaby, a former FBI agent. The investigation led to Greitens indictment on one count of invasion of privacy. Greitens claimed he had been the victim of a political witch hunt.
Jury selection had just begun when Gardner dropped the charge after a judge ruled she would have to answer questions under oath from Greitens’ lawyers about her handling of the case. She said it put her in an “impossible” position to be a witness in a case she was pursuing.
Meanwhile, Gardner filed a second charge accusing Greitens of falsification of computer data for allegedly leaking to his political fundraiser a list of major donors to a veterans charity he founded, without the charity’s permission.
Under investigation by lawmakers as well, Quick resignation in June 2018, and Gardner agreed to drop the criminal charges.
Attention then turned to how Gardner and Tisaby conducted the investigation. In 2019, Tisaby was charged with six counts of perjury and one count of tampering with evidence. He pleaded guilty last month for tampering with felony evidence and received a suspended sentence of one year probation.
The case stemmed from Tisaby’s statement that he did not take notes during an interview with the woman when video later showed he did, and his statement that he did not. He had not received notes from the prosecutor’s office before questioning the woman when a later document showed he had.
Lawyers for Greitens raised concerns that Gardner failed to correct the record of Tisaby’s statements and whether she concealed evidence.
Downey said any mistakes were unintentional, the result of Gardner’s heavy workload during the Greitens investigation.
Gardner had many confrontations during his leadership of the circuit attorney’s office.
Last summer, charges were dropped in three murder cases in one week because prosecutors failed to show up in court or were unprepared after months of delays, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. The newspaper also cited Circuit Court data showing that about a third of felony cases were dismissed, triple the percentage of its predecessor.
Gardner argues that his reforms have made the city safer and the criminal justice system fairer. She expanded a diversion program and stopped prosecuting low-level marijuana possession, helping to significantly reduce prison overcrowding.
Gardner has often been at odds with police, particularly in 2019 when she placed dozens of officers on a “exclude list,” preventing them from filing a complaint. The list was compiled after a national group accused the officers of posting racist and anti-Muslim comments on social media.
In 2020, Gardner filed a lawsuit accusing the city, a police union and others of a coordinated, racist conspiracy to force her to resign. The lawsuit alleged violations of the Ku Klux Klan Law of 1871, which was passed to thwart efforts to deny the civil rights of racial minorities.
Downey, in a court filing, said the ethics complaints involved “another attempt by Ms. Gardner’s political enemies — largely from outside St. Louis — to impeach Ms. Gardner and thwart the systemic reforms she defend”.
Greitens had remained largely out of sight until Announcement by Senator Roy Blunt in March 2021 that he would not seek a third term. Republican leaders worry that Greitens could win the primary but lose to a Democrat in the general election, losing what should have been a surefire GOP seat.
In a court filing last month in a child custody case, Sheena Greitens accused her ex-husband of being physically abusive towards her and their children. Eric Greitens called the allegations “completely fabricated” and “baseless”.