Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Response from Kimberly Gardner, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Candidate

1. What do you view as the key role, and/or attributes needed for this position? What experience/attributes do you have that qualify you for this position?

The events of our region over the few years have forever changed the expectations of prosecutors, not only in our city but also across the nation. The role of the prosecutor is to serve as the orbiter of justice and to seek justice in a fair and expeditious manner on behalf of the people of the City of St. Louis. This requires the Circuit Attorney to establish and maintain a high level of trust among city residents, law enforcement, judges, legislators and the accused. 

Consequently, the expanded emphasis on trust increases the need for a broader set of skills that are more comprehensive than ever before. Growing up in North St. Louis, I witness first-hand the effects of crime on our community. My family’s 70-year funeral home business, located in North St. Louis exposed me to the devastation of violent crime felt by many of our city’s families. My experience as an Assistant Circuit Attorney allowed me to gained insight into the complexities that impede us from having safer communities. My background as a nurse exposed me to health related causes and consequences of persistent crime in our neighborhoods. And finally, as a State Representative of the 77th District, I have gained an understanding of the legislative skill required and the political environment necessary to influence our laws that we seek to enforce.

2. Why do you think you are the best person for this position? What differentiates you from your opponent(s)?

It was my deep concern about the effects of crime and its underlying causes is why I became a public servant and sought public office. The relatively recent events in our city and nation have produced a new expectation from the public of our criminal justice system. As result, the role of the chief prosecutor has evolved beyond the minimal qualification of a trial attorney. Rather, the new reality is that the position demands a broad set Skills and abilities. 

My life and professional background provides me an opportunity to uniquely serve the people of St. Louis as its next Circuit attorney.

3. What do you feel are the most pressing issues currently facing this office and what plans do you have to address these issues? (please be specific)

The most pressing issue is that of public trust. Public trust is essential to the job of prosecutor. If there is a void in public trust, it is virtually impossible and is the essential and most pressing issue.
  1. Next focus on reducing serious and violent crime
    1. By focusing on aggressive prosecution of serious and violent offenders
  2. Reverse the trend of over-incarceration
    1. Use diversion and specialty courts to divert first-time offenders away from prison and its lifetime-associated stigma.
  3. Reduce recidivism rate
    1. Coordinate and support transition programs with data and other needed resources.

4. Describe how you work with, or will work with, others to address your priorities.

I will work with varied number stakeholder that make up the criminal Justice ‘ecosystem” that include residents, victims, witnesses, elected officials, accused, law enforcement, prosecutors, judges, convicts, correction officials and business leaders. My strategy will focus on creating an on-going dialogue (as apposed to the traditional monologue conversations that often take place) with stakeholder to gain and maintain a broad understanding of the inter-relationship with these shareholders.

This will be accomplished through a multifaceted approach that includes with meetings, online, social media, school visits, news outlets and other outlets that serve as a foundation for two-way dialogue

5. Do you support a special prosecutor request in officer-involved shootings?

Yes. Although I believe that under my leadership the Office of the Circuit Attorney would fairly and expeditiously charge and prosecute any defendant regardless of the uniform they wear, political office, or stature in the community, for sake of the appearance and maintenance of trust I support the use of an independent prosecutor in these instances.

6. Who are your 3 largest campaign contributors? Do you have a policy on accepting lobbyist gifts? Are there donors from whom you will not accept campaign contributions?

My family is my largest contributor. No however I will not accept donations from those groups that I am diametrically apposed to their mission.

7. Since the shooting death of Michael Brown, the roles of prosecutors in our criminal justice system have become a topic of national discussion. If elected, how will you work to increase trust between our criminal justice system and the community, in particular low income communities of color? 

I believe this one of largest challenge facing the criminal justice is the lack of trust, particularly in low income and minority communities, where the vast majority f serious violent crime takes place. In addition to my answer to question #4, I would implement the following:
  1. Circuit Attorney Code of Ethics that would be one the most stringent in the nation to insure that the office held accountable to the people of the City of St. Louis
  2. Increase transparency and availability of data related to who is charged, rationale and nature of the charge, outcome, and recidivism.
  3. Examine community prosecution model for low level crimes

8. The United States is the world's leader in incarceration with 2.2 million people currently in the nation's prisons or jails – a 500% increase over the past thirty years. St. Louis is not immune to this trend. In particular, people who commit crimes as a result of drug seeking behavior or have mental illness comprise roughly a third of the people in our jails at any given time. If elected, what steps will you take to decrease incarceration rates in St. Louis, especially for people with substance abuse and mental health issues?

My focus is to reduce serious and violent crime; consequently, I would dedicate the majority of the Office’s prosecution resources toward these crimes. I would use specialty courts and other diversion strategies to address issues of substance abuse, mental health and other non-criminal issues

9. Recently, a former aide of Richard Nixon admitted that the War on Drugs was fabricated to target low-income communities of color and people who were a part of the liberal left. We now have multiple Presidential candidates calling for an end to the war on drugs. As Circuit Attorney, what role will you play in ending the war on drugs?

I will focus the resource of the Office on prosecuting violent and serious crime that impacts the safety and well-being of the residents of the City of St. Louis.

10. Some Circuit Attorneys are criticized for only prosecuting cases they know can be won in order to maintain a high conviction rate. As Circuit Attorney, how will you make decisions on what cases to prosecute?

I will seek to pursue the prosecution of those cases where the evidence is available for conviction and such prosecution is in the best interest of the people of the City of St. Louis.

11. As Circuit Attorney, how will you ensure that people who have committed crimes are able to have the opportunity to fully participate in society after they have done their time?

I will work collectively with Missouri’s Department of Corrections, non-profits, and other organizations to strengthen re-entry programs for those who have paid their debt to society and want to live a productive life.

12. What is your position on expungement, restorative justice, and diversion programs

Expungement and diversion programs are valuable tools for prosecutors to provide the people of the City of St. Louis Justice while allowing non-serious and non-violent offenders to avoid becoming unemployable and forced in to harden criminality. 

Restorative Justice programs are valuable tools to help communities heal from crime. We know that crime destroys the bonds of trust that make up vibrant neighborhoods. By allowing some level of reconciliation among offender, victims, and the community, it provides the means for the necessary healing that must occur to restore the bonds of trust that is so important to establishing vibrant and safe communities.

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