Missouri Supreme Court reprimands St. Louis prosecutor

The Missouri Supreme Court on Tuesday reprimanded St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner for mistakes made in the 2018 prosecution of then-Gov. Eric Greitens, but agreed with an advisory counsel’s decision that suspension of her law license or disbarment were not merited.

The brief ruling from the state High Court echoed a “joint stipulation” agreement reached in April by Gardner and the Missouri Office of Disciplinary Counsel. In that agreement, Gardner conceded that she failed to produce documents and mistakenly maintained that all documents had been provided to Greitens’ lawyers in the criminal case that played a pivotal role in the Republican’s decision to resign in June 2018.

The agreement, stating that Gardner’s conduct “was negligent or perhaps reckless, but not intentional,” called for a written reprimand, but it was ultimately up to the Missouri Supreme Court to issue a ruling. In addition to the reprimand for violating rules of professional conduct, the court fined Gardner $750.

Gardner told the disciplinary panel in April that the mistakes were due to the fast-moving nature of the Greitens case.

“I’m pleased that our state’s highest court and disciplinary counsel has recognized that the ethics disciplinary process should not be weaponized for political gain,” Gardner said in a statement Tuesday. “I look forward to continuing the critical work of creating a safer, fairer, and just St. Louis.”

Gardner, a 47-year-old Democrat, was first elected in 2016, becoming St. Louis’ first Black female circuit attorney. She is one of several progressive prosecutors elected in recent years with a focus on creating more fairness in the criminal justice system.

Greitens was also elected in 2016. About a year into his term, he acknowledged a 2015 affair with his St. Louis hairdresser. The woman alleged that Greitens took a compromising photo and threatened to use it as blackmail if she spoke of their relationship.

Gardner hired private investigator William Tisaby, a former FBI agent, to investigate, leading to Greitens’ indictment on one felony count of invasion of privacy. Greitens claimed he had been the victim of a political witch hunt.

Jury selection had just begun when a judge ruled Gardner would have to answer questions under oath from Greitens’ attorneys over her handling of the case, prompting her to drop the charge. She said that it put her in an “impossible” position of being a witness in a case she was prosecuting.

Meanwhile, Gardner filed a second charge accusing Greitens of tampering with computer data for allegedly disclosing to his political fundraiser a list of top donors to a veterans charity he founded, without the charity’s permission.

Under investigation by lawmakers as well, Greitens resigned in June 2018, and Gardner agreed to drop the criminal charges.

The case drew renewed attention when Greitens entered the race for one of Missouri’s U.S. Senate seats. He finished a distant third in the Aug. 2 Republican primary won by Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt.

In 2019, Tisaby was indicted on six counts of perjury and one count of evidence tampering. He pleaded guilty in March to misdemeanor evidence tampering and received a suspended sentence of one year of probation.

The case stemmed from Tisaby’s statement that he had not taken notes during an interview with the woman when a video later showed that he had, and his statement that he hadn’t received notes from the prosecutor’s office before he interviewed the hairdresser when a document later showed that he had.

Greitens’ attorneys cited Gardner’s failure to correct the record on Tisaby’s statements, and questioned whether she concealed evidence.

Gardner’s tenure has often been tumultuous.

She contends that her reforms have made the city safer and the criminal justice system more equitable. She has expanded a diversion program and stopped prosecuting low-level marijuana possession, helping to significantly reduce jail overcrowding.

But last summer, charges were dropped in three murder cases in one week because prosecutors failed to show up in court or weren’t prepared after months of delay, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. The newspaper also cited Circuit Court data showing that about one-third of felony cases were dismissed — triple the percentage of her predecessor.

In 2018, Gardner placed dozens of officers on an “exclusion list,” prohibiting them from bringing cases. The list was developed 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 and racist conspiracy aimed at forcing her out of office. The lawsuit alleged violations of the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, which was adopted to thwart efforts to deny the civil rights of racial minorities. The case was later dismissed.

Greitens’ political future is unclear. His Senate bid was damaged by his ex-wife’s claims in a child custody dispute that he was physically abusive. He strongly denied the allegations.

A Missouri judge on Friday issued a ruling in the case but ordered it sealed, and the public cannot read it.

At issue was whether court jurisdiction should remain in Missouri or move to Texas, where Sheena Greitens is now a public affairs professor at the University of Texas. Sheena Greitens asked the court to move the case to the Austin area, in part to spare her children from renewed public attention during her ex-husband’s Senate run.