Opinion: Hold Gardner, all prosecutors accountable

   

By Jeff Roorda

St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner is a disaster. She’s declared war on the police officers that present cases to her. She’s granted de facto amnesty to St. Louis’s violent criminal underworld through her soft-on-crime policies and inept prosecutions of violent offenders. And, she’s disqualified herself from office by the manner in which she’s discharged her duties.

And nobody can do a damn thing about it.

At least, not yet.

In Missouri, statewide officeholders, legislators, and even judges of the Circuit, Appellate, and Supreme Courts can be impeached.

But not prosecutors.

In Missouri virtually every locally elected office includes a provision at law allowing voters to recall that officeholder if it be the will of the people.

But not prosecutors.

When an elected official in Missouri is suspected of committing a crime, there is a process wherein another elected official – the local prosecutor – reviews the case and determines if charges should be pursued.

But not prosecutors.

Let’s face it, Kim Gardner is almost certainly guilty of crimes and incapacity in office that would be impeachable were they to be committed by members of the executive, legislative or judicial branches. But somehow, under Missouri law, her office lay outside the three branches of government that are answerable to the people.

If you’ve read the bombshell Ethics Commission decision regarding Kim Gardner’s misuse of campaign funds and the explosive allegations that she converted those funds for personal use, you almost certainly concluded that she is culpable criminally for her actions.

If you’ve followed the news reports about Gardner’s black-listing of nearly 30 St. Louis police officers in direct contradiction to the requirements of the US Supreme Court in Brady v. Maryland – an act of malfeasance that has resulted in hundreds of dangerous criminals being set free – you’ve had to wonder how an officeholder can so completely fail the victims of crime and violate their oath of office yet still have a job?

If you paid any attention to Gardner’s prosecution of former Governor Eric Greitens and the Tisaby-gate furor that erupted this week when KMOX reported that Gardner may be under investigation by a Grand Jury for suborning or abetting perjury on the part of her special investigator, William Tisaby, you have to be scratching your head saying, “How is she not in jail, or at least, removed from office?”

The answer is, we have an inherent flaw in Missouri law: Gardner and other prosecutors are not answerable for their misdeeds.

But that can be fixed.

The Legislature should act. They should act now. They should act decisively.

Prosecutors must be held accountable like any other elected official.

Pick your poison. Pass a recall petition process. Enact an impeachment clause. Empower the Attorney General or a Standing Special Prosecutor to review cases where prosecutors themselves are alleged to have broken the law. I say, “all of the above.”

This should be a priority for every responsible member of government, not just lawmakers.

The Governor should demand that a bill be on his desk by Springbreak.

The Attorney General should ask the General Assembly to give him more power to investigate rogue prosecutors and the AG should demand that Gardner appoint him Special Prosecutor to investigate the Ethics Commissions findings against her to determine if she broke the law.

The State Auditor should make Kim Gardner the very first target of her newly created Public Corruption Unit. Taking on a fellow Democrat who has skirted the law would show that the Auditor is serious about battling public corruption regardless of party.

And, the Cole County Prosecutor should open an investigation into the double-dipping on rent that Gardner is alleged to have committed in Jefferson City while she was in the Legislature, according to the Ethics Commission finding that she signed. If the Cole County Prosecutor shrinks away from his duty to investigate the offenses Gardner is alleged to have committed in his jurisdiction, fellow Republicans should pressure him to do the right thing.

This is about more than just Gardner and the stakes couldn’t be higher. Prosecutors are generally viewed as the most powerful officeholder in their given jurisdiction. For good reason. They can take people’s freedom away. Or in Gardner’s case, grant freedom to the most dangerous criminals among us.
We have a lot of great prosecutors in this state who conduct themselves admirably. We have a new prosecutor in St. Louis County who I’m desperately rooting for because the state’s economic engine can’t afford to have two rogue prosecutors. He ain’t off to a great start though.

But, here’s the thing: the new St. Louis County prosecutor can do whatever he wants as long as he upholds the law and faithfully discharges himself in office. Same goes for every prosecutor in the state.

We have one prosecutor already in the form of Kim Gardner who certainly has misdemeaned herself in office and, has almost certainly, committed crimes.
That’s one too many. The voters deserve better. It’s time to hold Gardner and all prosecutors accountable.

Jeff Roorda served in the Missouri House of Representatives from 2005 to 2010 and is the union representative and spokesman for the St. Louis Police Officers Association.