The legal battle over St. Louis prosecuting attorney Kim Gardner intensified on multiple fronts Wednesday with the appointment of a special prosecutor to pursue contempt claims against her. Presiding Judge Elizabeth Hogan appointed attorney Allison Lee of suburban Clayton as the special prosecutor. The appointment comes after Circuit Judge Michael Noble vowed to appoint a special prosecutor to pursue claims against Gardner and her now former assistant, Christopher Desilets. Noble called Gardner’s office a "rudderless ship of chaos" that forces attorneys to handle untenable caseloads. He suggested that Gardner and Desilets were guilty of criminal contempt after Desilets failed to appear for a scheduled trial and subsequent hearing this week.
Gardner, a progressive Democrat, has been criticized for years for understaffing and dysfunction in her office. Those issues reached a boiling point in February after a burglary suspect who was supposed to be on house arrest crashed a speeding car into a Tennessee teenager visiting the city for a volleyball tournament, causing the amputation of both of her legs. Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey, a Republican, filed a lawsuit seeking her removal. Bailey claims Gardner’s office has repeatedly failed to prosecute criminal cases, failed to inform and confer with victims, and has refused to exercise judgment to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to prosecute. Bailey said Gardner has been taking nursing classes at St. Louis University, which would violate a state law that requires Gardner to devote her full time and energy into the office of prosecuting attorney. “Obtaining a nursing degree is not one of her official duties, prosecuting criminals is,” Bailey said. Gardner’s office has faced mass defections amid the controversy. Desilets announced his resignation on Monday as nearly one-third of Gardner’s office have left since Bailey’s filing in February. The defections have left an already short staff to handle thousands of criminal and child support cases.