Search for St. Louis prosecutor Gardner's replacement begins

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri's Republican governor on Wednesday officially opened the application process to replace St. Louis' embattled prosecutor, Kim Gardner, who resigned last week amid crushing pressure from Republicans who have called her negligent.

Gov. Mike Parson said he’s looking for a “member of the St. Louis community” with “strong managerial experience,” a “commitment to the rule of law” and a record of “fair and just” application of state and local law.

“We truly want the best person for the job who can restore law and order to our great City of St. Louis,” Parson said in a statement. “The prosecutor we appoint has a real opportunity to make meaningful and lasting change that strengthens public safety.”

Parson has only weeks to name a successor to Gardner, who is the city's first Black circuit attorney. Her last day is June 1.

Republicans have been calling for Gardner to resign for months. They argue too many cases, including homicides, have gone unpunished under Gardner’s watch, that victims and their families are left uninformed, and that the prosecutor’s office is too slow to take on cases brought by police. Gardner has said efforts to push her out of office are politically motivated.

State Senate leaders have said she reached a breaking point when she learned that her departure likely would mean the death of pending legislation to allow a special appointed prosecutor to take over most of her duties.

Republican Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, who sponsored that legislation, said he will not push for its passage this year now that Gardner is stepping down. Luetkemeyer and Senate Republican leaders have said a separate bill to restore state control of the St. Louis Police Department faces significant hurdles to becoming law in the final days of the session.

Republican Attorney General Andrew Bailey also took legal steps to remove Gardner from office in February. A hearing on whether Gardner should be removed had been scheduled for September.

Gardner has faced intense public scrutiny for years, especially from Republican elected officials.

In 2018, she charged then-Gov. Eric Greitens with felony invasion of privacy, accusing him of taking a compromising photo of a woman during an extramarital affair. The charge was eventually dropped. But Greitens, a Republican who was also under investigation by Missouri lawmakers, resigned in June 2018.

The case drew scrutiny that led to the conviction of Gardner’s investigator. Gardner received a written reprimand for failing to produce documents and mistakenly maintaining that all documents had been provided to Greitens’ lawyers.

Criticism of Gardner escalated earlier this year after 17-year-old Janae Edmondson, a volleyball standout from Tennessee, was struck by a speeding car after a tournament game in downtown St. Louis. She lost both legs.

The driver, 21-year-old Daniel Riley, was out on bond on a robbery charge despite nearly 100 bond violations that included letting his GPS monitor die and breaking the terms of his house arrest, according to court records. Critics questioned why Riley was freed.