Greitens case at center of St. Louis prosecutor’s review

ST. LOUIS (AP) — The 2018 lawsuit against Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens played a pivotal role in his eventual resignation. Now questions about St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner’s handling of the case are putting his career in jeopardy, even as Greitens attempts to make a political comeback.

Gardner faces a hearing Monday before the Missouri Office of Disciplinary Counsel. She is accused in a 73-page report of failing to disclose evidence to Greitens’ lawyers, misrepresenting evidence and other ethical violations.

If the three-person panel finds fault, it will be up to the Missouri Supreme Court to decide the penalty, though a decision is not expected for several weeks. The most severe penalty — suspension or disbarment — would likely cost Gardner his job, as state law requires elected prosecutors to hold active law licenses.

Gardner, a 46-year-old Democrat, is St. Louis’ first black circuit attorney and one of many progressive female prosecutors elected in recent years to create more fairness in the criminal justice system.

Over the past 12 months, Greitens has emerged as a leading contender for the Republican nomination for one of Missouri’s U.S. Senate seats, despite recent allegations of abuse by his ex-wife.

The brash former Navy SEAL officer with presidential aspirations was a year into his first term when news broke in January 2018 of an affair three years earlier with his St. Louis hairstylist. The woman alleged that Greitens took a compromising photo and threatened to use it as blackmail if she spoke about their relationship.

“There was a victim, someone who said they were assaulted,” Gardner’s attorney Michael Downey said.

But neither the FBI nor the St. Louis police seemed inclined to investigate, Downey said. Gardner’s internal investigator was on military duty.

So Gardner hired private detective William Tisaby, a former FBI agent. The investigation led to the indictment of Greitens on one count of invasion of privacy. Greitens claimed he had been the victim of a political witch hunt.

Jury selection had just begun when Gardner dropped the charge after a judge ruled she would have to answer questions under oath from Greitens’ attorneys about her handling of the case. She said it put her in an “impossible” position to be a witness in a case she was pursuing.

Meanwhile, Gardner filed a second charge accusing Greitens of falsifying computer data for allegedly leaking to his political fundraiser a list of major donors to a veterans charity he founded, without permission of the charity.

Also under investigation by lawmakers, Greitens resigned in June 2018, and Gardner agreed to drop criminal charges.

Attention then turned to how Gardner and Tisaby conducted the investigation. In 2019, Tisaby was charged with six counts of perjury and one count of tampering with evidence. He pleaded guilty last month to tampering with misdemeanor evidence and was given a one-year suspended probation.

The case stemmed from Tisaby’s statement that he did not take notes during an interview with the woman when video later showed he did, and his statement that he did not. He had not received notes from the prosecutor’s office before questioning the woman when a later document showed he had.

Lawyers for Greitens have raised concerns that Gardner failed to correct the record of Tisaby’s statements and whether she concealed evidence.

Downey said any mistakes were unintentional, the result of Gardner’s heavy workload during the Greitens investigation.

“In the circumstances of the case, I think they were doing their best to handle the case,” Downey said. “We admitted in our response that mistakes were made.”

Peter Joy, a professor at the University of Washington School of Law who teaches and writes about legal ethics, said that Gardner’s withholding of Tisaby’s note-taking is not necessarily a violation because Missouri law does not specify a timeline for such disclosures – and in this case, the testimony had not even begun.

“I don’t think the ethics case against her is that clear,” Joy said. “He’s not someone who tampers with evidence.”

If disciplined, Joy said it’s highly unlikely Gardner will be suspended or disbarred. This would disappoint his critics, who argue that Gardner’s office is dysfunctional and inefficient.

Last summer, charges were dropped in three murder cases in one week because prosecutors failed to show up in court or were unprepared after months of delay, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. . The newspaper also cited Circuit Court data showing that about a third of felony cases were dismissed, triple the percentage of its predecessor.

Gardner argues that his reforms have made the city safer and the criminal justice system fairer. She expanded a diversion program and stopped prosecuting low-level marijuana possession, helping to significantly reduce prison overcrowding.

Gardner has often been at odds with police, particularly in 2019 when she placed dozens of officers on a “do-not-list” barring them from pressing charges. The list was compiled after a national group accused the officers of posting racist and anti-Muslim comments on social media.

In 2020, Gardner filed a lawsuit accusing the city, a police union and others of a coordinated, racist conspiracy to force her to resign. The lawsuit alleged violations of the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, which was passed to thwart efforts to deny the civil rights of racial minorities.

Downey, in a court filing, said the latest ethics complaints involve “another attempt by Ms. Gardner’s political enemies — largely from outside St. Louis — to impeach Ms. Gardner and thwart the systemic reforms that She defends”.

Greitens had remained largely out of sight until Sen. Roy Blunt’s announcement in March 2021 that he would not seek a third term. Republican leaders fear he will win the primary but lose to a Democrat in the general election, losing what should be a safe GOP seat.

In a court filing last month in a child custody case, Sheena Greitens accused her ex-husband of being physically abusive towards her and their children. Eric Greitens called the allegations “completely fabricated” and “baseless”.

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