ST. LOUIS–(KMOX)–A wave of prosecutors quitting the Circuit Attorney’s office is slowing down the criminal docket.
The exit sign lit up when newly-elected Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner took over in January. Since then two dozen prosecutors have resigned–about a third of her trial lawyers.
“The high turnover rate in the Circuit Attorney’s office has had some effect on how quickly we can resolve cases,” said Judge Michael Stelzer who supervises the criminal docket for the 22nd Judicial Circuit.
Stelzer says it’s not the only factor. Cases have also been continued because of witnesses not being available or lawyers having a schedule conflict.
Year to date, Stelzer says the criminal docket is “about on pace” with last year, but he’s concerned that if the exodus of prosecutors continues it could fall farther behind.
“In fact, up to this point we’re moving cases at a very similar clip to last year,” Stelzer said, “So I just expect as more lawyers are leaving that office it’s going to be harder to maintain that pace.”
Post Dispatch reporter Joel Currier first reported the departures last week, noting that some are not happy with the role a former political campaign advisor is playing in the circuit attorney’s office.
KMOX requested an interview with Circuit Attorney Gardner to comment on the departures, but she declined. We also wanted to know the numbers: How many prosecutors short is she right now?
Her office released a statement that does not address exact staffing levels, but blames the high turnover on “low pay” and “organizational change.”
Gardner’s statement on the two dozen prosecutors quitting:
“July 31, 2017
“As the new Circuit Attorney, I am committed to bringing new, innovative ideas and best practices in prosecution to this community. Leadership with a new vision can create both excitement and uncertainty.
“The people at the Circuit Attorney’s Office are some of the hardest working and talented people I know and also some of the lowest paid attorneys of any law firm in town including the City Counselor’s Office.
“Combine low pay with high caseloads and organizational change, and you have a recipe for turnover.
“While we are doing what we can to retain experienced prosecutors, we are also very excited about the new crop of prosecutors we have hired over the past several months and the new people we are currently interviewing.
“We are also working with the court to manage the docket in a manner that balances the rights of defendants and the rights of victims. While speed is important, justice must remain the focus of everything we do in this office.
“The Circuit Attorney’s Office and its people have been honorably serving the people of St. Louis for decades, through dozens of Circuit Attorneys. I have confidence we will endure this transition successfully as well.”