DANNY WICENTOWSKI/RANDOM HOUSE
Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner's new top aide, Robert Dierker, has a controversial history.
St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner won her seat one year ago in part by vowing to change the status quo — becoming the first black woman elected as the city's top prosecutor even as she affirmed that Black Lives Matter and the criminal justice system was broken.
This week, she hired as her chief trial assistant a man with beliefs more in line with Fox News than the progressive movement.
Originally appointed to the bench by Missouri Governor John Ashcroft, St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Robert Dierker famously wrote a book ten years ago that blasted "femi-fascists" and "illiberal liberals." The Tyranny of Tolerance: A Sitting Judge Breaks the Code of Silence to Expose the Liberal Judicial Assault
aimed to do just as its title promised, with chapters taking on "the cloud cuckooland of radical feminism" and liberals "tying the criminal justice system in knots over endless death penalty procedural questions." He even managed to throw in a defense of Roy Moore (albeit before the recent accusations that Moore romanced high school students — at the time, the Alabama judge had merely been ousted from the bench
for refusing to take the Ten Commandments down from his courtroom).
Dierker's hiring triggered public criticism yesterday from Alderman Scott Ogilvie, who notes that the judge has never disavowed any of the opinions he expressed in the book — and that he seems to have a particular antipathy for women.
"I think it's just a terrible decision," he says of Dierker's hire. "It's not just that he has political opinions I happen to disagree with. It's that many victims in the criminal justice system are women, and he seems to downplay the idea that women can even be victims of sexual harassment. If he doesn't have a clear conviction that everybody in the workplace deserves to be respected, you wonder if he even has a clear sense of what kind of actions against women should be prosecuted."
Indeed, a 1999 RFT
story goes deep on a legal decision by Judge Dierker
on a case where a woman's boss badgered her for sex. He allegedly groped her and grabbed her and even exposed himself to her. She denied his advances, and in time, was fired.
Dierker, then the court's presiding judge, dismissed the woman's claim. Under Missouri law, he wrote, proving "intentional infliction of emotional distress" requires showing conduct that is outrageous — "i.e., conduct which is regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized society." Wrote Dierker, "Mere solicitation to begin, or renew, a sexual relationship is not such conduct. There must be more."
Continued Dierker: "Plaintiff would seek to have the Court impose a duty of care on persons inviting others to engage in sexual relationships. Plaintiff's attempts to inveigle the Court into a realm which is best left to church and family is supported by neither reason nor authority.
"Absent outrageous intentional conduct, resulting in substantial, objective injury — or legislation imposing a standard representing the will of the people — the courts cannot and should not attempt to regulate behavior in this peculiarly private area." In other words: Sexual harassment is a matter for the church and for the family — not for the courts (!).
In a statement, Gardner said that Dierker is aligned with her vision for criminal justice reform.
"While I fundamentally disagree with Judge Dierker’s characterization of feminist activism and other issues outlined in his decade-old book, I believe his body of work on the bench is the best measure of his ability to follow the law and separate his personal views from his work," she continued. "Regarding those folks who think this isn’t a good move for the City of St. Louis, I question their silence for all these years while Judge Dierker determined the future of people’s lives as a judge. I have confidence that his addition to my office is a positive move for this community, otherwise, I wouldn’t have made such a bold decision."
As for Ogilvie, he says that Dierker has been on his radar for years, but that voters have agreed to retain him. Now the situation is different. "Everybody made that decision before," he says. "Now it's just her decision. It's not a question of whether everybody is comfortable with his views. It's a question of whether she's comfortable with them."
Dierker has sat on the bench since 1986. He turns 70 in 2018, which means he would be forced to retire under state law. Gardner's job offer gives him a second act.
And Ogilvie fears the hire can only damage morale at the Circuit Attorney's Office, which has already been rocked with many departures in the last year.
"I think he has made a lot of questionable statements about a lot of people," he says. "And I think she should change her mind."
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