The Missouri Supreme Court reprimanded St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner Tuesday and fined her $750, finding that she violated professional misconduct rules during the investigation of former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens.
The court’s decision marks the final step in an ethics probe that began in July 2018. It aligns with the recommendation from a three-person panel with Missouri’s attorney disciplinary system, which was submitted to the court this spring. The $750 fine amount is set in state law and is the standard for any attorney who has received a reprimand.
“Ms. Gardner respects the work of the Supreme Court and the disciplinary counsel in this case,” said her attorney Michael Downing in a statement Tuesday. “She has learned from this process and has improved her office’s operations based upon what occurred.”
In an agreement between Gardner and the Chief Disciplinary Counsel Alan Pratzel in April, Gardner admitted to unintentionally failing to produce documents to a judge for review and failing to correct misstatements from her contracted investigator during the Greitens investigation.
“The evidence does not support a conclusion that these documents were deliberately withheld from production,” states the agreement Pratzel presented to the panel during an April hearing in St. Louis County.
Further, there was no finding that the Circuit Attorney or her office had “an improper motive or strategy regarding the production of materials in the Greitens case,” it states.
Gardner has previously contended that the investigation and charges against her investigator in the Greitens case, William Tisaby, were a clear attempt for her adversaries to find a way to remove her — the city’s first Black circuit attorney — from elected office.
The court’s decision to accept the recommendation for a reprimand is likely the final official action tied to the events that drove Greitens from the governor’s office in 2018.
As he attempted a political comeback in this years’ Republican Senate primary, Greitens hyped the Tisaby plea and ethics case against Gardner as proof he had been the target of a politically motivated investigation. Greitens was unable to convince enough Republicans to give him another chance, however, and came in third in the Aug. 2 primary.
“I am 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.”
Agreement with disciplinary counsel
At the heart of the agreement with Pratzel is five pages of a document of bullet-pointed thoughts that Gardner made after interviewing a woman who had an extramarital affair with Greitens in 2015, Gardner told the panel in April.
The document was obtained when a dozen police officers raided her office during the Tisaby investigation.
Pratzel stated that her notes should have been added to a “privilege log” – or a list of documents that Gardner’s team believed weren’t required by law to be given to Greitens’ attorneys. The judge wanted to review the list to ensure the documents were privileged.
Gardner told the panel she and her team did not intentionally leave the document off the log, and that she didn’t know the document still existed in its original form.
Gardner has previously said the person in charge of compiling the privilege log for the judge during the 2018 Greitens investigation was her chief trial assistant, Robert Dierker, who had formerly been the presiding judge of the 22nd Circuit (where the Greitens case was being heard) and a judge for more than 30 years before joining her team. She has said she took his advice on what to include on the log and believed that Dierker and Greitens’ attorneys had agreed on what should be included.
In the agreement, Gardner also admitted to having some responsibility over supervising Tisaby, a former FBI agent hired to assist in the Greitens probe, Pratzel said.
In March, Tisaby pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor count of evidence tampering, just before he was scheduled for trial on seven felony charges — six for perjury and one for evidence tampering.
Pratzal alleges Gardner should have corrected the record when Tisaby failed to acknowledge in court that he received documentation from Gardner about the Greitens’ case before interviewing Greitens’ accuser – the basis of Tisaby’s misdemeanor plea.
Gardner had emailed her bullet-point notes to Tisaby before he interviewed K.S. on Jan. 29, 2018 on video — a recording that was given to the defense.
Although Tisaby had told Gardner that he wasn’t going to use her notes, Tisaby had reformatted her words into a new document — cutting off the several pages — and printed it, Gardner’s response states. Then during the interview, he took 11 pages of handwritten notes on top of that print out.
Gardner eventually dropped the invasion of privacy case against Greitens, after his defense prevailed in making Gardner a witness in the trial as well and Tisaby a potential defendant.
After Gardner bowed out of the invasion of privacy case, Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker took it over. It was eventually dropped, citing statutes of limitation that had or were about to pass and potentially missing evidence.
This spring, Greitens’ ex-wife filed an affidavit as part of a child custody dispute alleging he had been physically abusive to her and their children. She also claims Greitens admitted to her in late January 2021 that he had in fact taken the photo of K.S. that resulted in the invasion of privacy charge.
This article by Rebecca Rivas is published by permission of The Missouri Independent.