Aldermen question Gardner's request for legal costs

Aldermen question Gardner's request for legal costs

CITY HALL – Two aldermen quizzed Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner last week on money her office spent on outside legal defense in a grand jury investigation of her office.

Sixteenth Ward Alderman Tom Oldenburg presented figures showing that the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office spent an average of $297,000 on contractual and other services from 2000 to 2017. The office spent $616,000 in 2018 and $562,000 so far in 2019. Twenty-Third Ward Alderman Joe Vaccaro also asked questions about the cost and the use of lawyers from out of town.

Gardner spoke and answered questions from aldermen at a two-hour-long hearing of the Board of Aldermen’s Ways and Means committee on May 29. She was one of a series of city department heads the committee has been interviewing about their budgets for 2019-2020.

Gardner blamed much of it on “the increased scrutiny of our office.”

When Oldenburg asked whether these involved litigation, Gardner noted that city police also were getting more money for litigation.

“I’m not going to allow the people in my office to be disenchanted, basically abused,” Gardner said.

Oldenburg noted that a special prosecutor had been appointed to investigate the Circuit Attorney’s Office and that five outside firms had been hired to defend Gardner at taxpayer expense. He also noted that St. Louis Circuit Judge Joan L. Moriarty issued a temporary injunction on May 6 prohibiting the city from paying those legal bills.

Gardner hired the attorneys to defend against a grand jury investigation of whether a private investigator Gardner had hired committed perjury in the prosecution of then-Gov. Eric Greitens.

Gardner also said the increase in contractual costs was partially due to work done to bring decades-old technology up to date.

But Oldenburg said, “These increases are not respective of technology. They are specifically the line item of legal services and professional services.”

Vaccaro said he had asked for the costs of the Greitens legal defense a year ago and never got that information. Gardner said she would get that information to him.

“Now we’re paying for attorneys. What is the cost for those attorneys, and why aren’t we using local attorneys?” Vaccaro asked.

One committee member who spoke in favor of Gardner was Fifth Ward Alderwoman Tammika Hubbard. “I commend you for the job you’re doing. It’s a hard one,” she said.

As recently proposed by the city’s Board of Estimate and Apportionment, the city’s general revenue budget is $517.5 million. Out of that, the proposed budget for the Circuit Attorney’s office is $7.6 million. But Gardner asked for an extra $540,000 for computer technology and security and three more workers.

“We have to make sure people are safe,” Gardner said. She said she had received hate mail and threats.

She wanted $200,000 for computer security, $100,000 to upgrade Windows 7 to Windows 10 and the rest for the three positions.

Gardner said that the security improvements were needed because of the increased attacks on her office and other offices around the nation. She said she received hate mail and threats every day.

At a meeting Monday, the Way and Means Committee voted to reduce the increase from the requested $540,000 to $200,000. It would be for computers and tech supplies. Before the mayor can sign it, the budget must be approved by the Board of Aldermen and the Board of Estimate and Apportionment,  which consists of the mayor, the comptroller and the president of the Board of Aldermen.