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ST. LOUIS — St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly M. Gardner says the city has no control over her office and no power to stop her from using tax money to hire outside help for legal and professional services.

The second-term elected St. Louis prosecutor has filed a countersuit against St. Louis' government challenging the power of three city offices — Comptroller Darlene Green, the Board of Estimate and Apportionment and the City Counselor's Office — to approve contractors to the Circuit Attorney's Office.

"For years, the circuit attorney, and her predecessors, have retained those vendors for goods and services that the circuit attorney believed, in her sole discretion, best advanced the objectives and goals of the office," Gardner's suit says.

The city counselor's office and a spokesman for Green did not provide a comment on the countersuit.

Gardner's counterclaim is part of an ongoing lawsuit filed in 2019 by a retired St. Louis police officer, Charlie Lane, who sued to stop the city from paying potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal bills to numerous law firms representing Gardner both in her professional and personal capacity. 

Gardner's city-funded office has contracts for various services including special assistant prosecutors, law firms, consultants, expert witnesses, forensic investigators and software and computer technology. Her latest budget totals $7.7 million.

The suit claims new procedures for approving contracts that Green's office adopted last year violate the city charter and are "an attempt to take over control" of the Circuit Attorney's Office and to strip power from the elected circuit attorney.

Gardner's suit argues that Missouri state laws covering county contracts don't apply to St. Louis "because the city is legislatively considered a city, not a county." She is asking a judge to deny the city's control over Gardner's office and declare St. Louis as a constitutional charter city not bound by state laws governing county contracts.

"The circuit attorney has objected to and does strongly object to the city’s effort to take over control of the (office)," the suit says.

Green told the Post-Dispatch last year that her office implemented new policies beginning July 1, 2020, to guarantee contracts made by office holders fully comply with certification procedures ensuring money is available.

In addition, Gardner is also challenging a St. Louis judge's court order last year that blocked payments to five private law firms Gardner hired to represent her and her office during the perjury investigation of the man she picked to investigate former Gov. Eric Greitens in 2018. After Judge Joan Moriarty's order halting payment to those firms, Gardner's office retained two other private law firms from the St. Louis area — Capes Sokol and Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner — for legal matters. In total, Gardner's office has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on legal bills. Her office has said it is not unusual to rely on outside lawyers.

A special prosecutor appointed by the St. Louis Circuit Court to investigate the perjury allegations has cost the city about $372,000 so far. Green has held up payment of another $250,000.

One of the contracts Gardner cites in her suit is for consulting work from retired Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson, who serves as Gardner's liaison with St. Louis police. The suit says the Comptroller's office in October rejected an extension of Johnson's $60,000-per-year contract, requiring Gardner to submit a new one for city approval. Gardner did, under protest, and the contract was approved.

Joel Currier • 314-340-8132

@joelcurrier on Twitter

jcurrier@post-dispatch.com

This article originally ran on stltoday.com.

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