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Editorial: Signs of gross incompetence in the Circuit Attorney's office

Editorial: Signs of gross incompetence in the Circuit Attorney's office

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A man credibly accused of murder was on the verge of walking free last week and, police say, may still be at large because of gross incompetence by Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner and her staff. For all her talk about criminal justice reform and ending the prosecution-and-incarceration cycle for people charged with relatively minor offenses, this was a case that deserved the full weight of Gardner’s prosecutorial powers because it involved a cold-blooded killing in which surveillance video showed the victim walking away when the gunman opened fire. The accused gunman was allowed to walk away from the courtroom last week because Gardner was so disorganized her office failed to show up in court for three successive hearings.

There were two other recent instances where the prosecution was so mismanaged that charges had to be dropped and/or refiled. Gardner has spent a considerable amount of her time trying to blame a vast racist conspiracy for thwarting her progress. She even filed a federal lawsuit to that effect (and lost). She went overboard prosecuting a Central West End couple for misdemeanors when they waved firearms at protesters gathered outside the couple’s house.

But when it comes to prosecuting someone who likely poses a real danger to society, she couldn’t be bothered to be represented in court — not even when the public defender assigned to the defendant phoned Gardner directly and left a message asking who was prosecuting the case. Her non-response prompted a motion for dismissal.

After Gardner’s prosecutors failed to show for hearings in May, June and last week, Circuit Judge Jason Sengheiser declared that Gardner’s office has “abandoned its duty” and dismissed the first-degree murder charge against defendant Brandon Campbell, the Post-Dispatch’s Joel Currier reported.

“The court does not take this action without significant consideration for the implications it may have for public safety...,” Sengheiser wrote in his order. “In a case like this where the Circuit Attorney’s office has essentially abandoned its duty to prosecute those it charges with crimes, the court must impartially enforce the law and any resultant threat to public safety is the responsibility of the Circuit Attorney’s Office.”

That admonishment appears to have gotten Gardner’s attention, and a prosecutor immediately refiled the case against Campbell. A separate case against 19-year-old Terrion L. Phillips, charged in a 2019 fatal armed-robbery shooting, was dropped because the prosecutor, new to the job, was unprepared. The judge denied a continuance because Gardner’s office had repeatedly delayed the trial since 2019, denying Phillips’ right to a speedy trial. The same prosecutor had lost a murder case a few days earlier.

Enough with the excuses and buck-passing. Gardner was elected to a job that requires her best efforts to protect society from dangerous criminals by vigorously prosecuting them. If she’s not up to the challenge, she should admit it so someone with proper focus and commitment can take over.

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