St. Louis judge files to hold Kim Gardner in contempt after no prosecutors show for murder trial

st. LOUIS — A judge on Monday filed to hold St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly M. Gardner in contempt of court after prosecutors from her office didn’t show up for a murder trial.

Jonathon Jones, 18, was set to face trial starting Monday on charges he shot and killed a man in 2021 near the Gateway Arch grounds, but no one from Gardner’s office appeared for the beginning of trial. The prosecutor assigned to the case is on sick leave.

Judge Scott A. Millikan filed an order for Gardner’s office to show cause for why she should not be held in criminal contempt and ordered to pay a fine or face jail time.

“This conduct thwarts and defeats the authority of the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis,” the judge wrote.

His filing comes on the eve of a hearing Tuesday where Gardner’s attorneys are expected to argue why a lawsuit seeking her removal should be dismissed. The lawsuit, filed by Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey, argues Gardner has repeatedly failed at her job as the city’s top prosecutor.

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Gardner’s office has faced years of criticism for understaffing and organizational dysfunction. Several hearings in recent months have been delayed because no one from Gardner’s office showed up to argue them, and in 2021, a murder case was dismissed altogether because a prosecutor failed to show up for trial. Authorities later learned the prosecutor had been assigned 30 cases while on maternity leave.

And the office has a dwindling number of staffers to call for help. In recent weeks, multiple prosecutors who handled the city’s most serious felonies have left Gardner’s office, including one who wrote of a ”toxic work environment” in her resignation letter. Just four prosecutors are now handling hundreds of violent felony cases in the city while the prosecutor assigned to Jones’ case is on medical leave.

In Jones’ case, prosecutors charged the then-17-year-old in September 2022 alongside Mark Perry, 37, in the fatal shooting of 29-year-old Brandon Scott. Scott was found dead in the driver’s seat of a blue Dodge Charger on steps leading to the arch grounds, according to court documents. Police found two different types of shell cases at the scene.

Jones’ attorney filed a motion in December invoking his right to a “speedy trial,” which in Missouri requires him to face trial within 120 days of his arrangement. That deadline is set to expire April 26, according to court documents.

But as of Monday, the first day of trial, neither the judge nor defense attorney had received any “information from the circuit attorney’s office regarding this matter,” according to court documents. The defense attorney and Jones appeared in court Monday, but no prosecutor arrived.

Jones’ attorney asked the judge to dismiss the case or for her client to be released on bond while the case proceeds. Millikan took those requests under advice.

The next step in the contempt filing is for Gardner to appear in court next Monday, April 24, and argue why she should not be held in contempt of court.

A spokeswoman for Gardner did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.

Tuesday’s hearing in the suit to remove Gardner from office is set to begin at 1:30 pm in a city courtroom. Multiple city agencies, the Circuit Attorney’s Office and its employees and the courts have been subpoenaed to provide information for the investigation.

Missouri Court of Appeals Judge John Torbitzky, who was appointed to president over the case, is expected to hear arguments about subpoenas and Gardner’s motion to dismiss the suit. He could also set a timeline for evidence collection and future hearings.

Kimberly Gardner is the first Black St. Louis circuit attorney. She was first elected in 2016. A brief look at her career and controversies. Video by Beth O’Malley

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