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Circuit Attorney: Bring on the Complaints!

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"The system may presume the defendant innocent, but as a prosecutor, I do not," wrote Joyce in her inaugural "Complaint Department" missive.
​Jennifer Joyce, St. Louis's circuit attorney, wants you to know she can take your hits. So confident is she, in fact, that she's launched an online sounding board called "From the Complaint Department," all but inviting peeved St. Louisans to air their grievances about any of her recent musings on Facebook, Twitter or her website.

Once you express your beef with her, though, don't be surprised if you get a public rebuttal from the woman known as the "South Side Shark" during her early prosecuting days. (Joyce hails from Lindenwood Park and now lives in Holly Hills.) And don't worry, she won't use your name.

The complaint file isn't meant to start any wars, but rather to spur healthy debate. "It's a great opportunity to have a dialogue with the people in the community whom I serve," she tells Daily RFT. "There is a lot of mythology out there, and sometimes you need to set the record straight of what the reality is. After that we can have a discussion about it."

In this week's complaint box, Joyce responds to two miffed law students who took umbrage to her tweet congratulating cops for busting up a robbery in the middle of a stickup. "Nice Work!" wrote Joyce. "Tacky," responded one of the law students, who sent Joyce a message declaring that the suspect should be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

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​But the Shark showed the scholar she's still got the teeth for academic philosophizing.

"First, the system may presume the defendant innocent, but as a prosecutor, I do not," Joyce wrote on her website under the header Why I'm not offended that a law student called me 'tacky'. "In fact, I don't charge people unless I'm convinced that a crime was committed by that person and I have the evidence to prove it."

"One man's tacky is another man's encouragement," she added.

The Complaint Department is part of Joyce's recent voyage into the social media stratosphere. More than ever during her tenure as top prosecutor of the city, Joyce this year has established a digital-media footprint, updating her feeds several times a day, commenting on high-profile trials, law-enforcement initiatives and, every so often, her own stream of consciousness. ("I just said 'butt' on FaceBook. Mom would be so proud," she recently tweeted.)

"I thought that as a lawyer I needed to talk more," she says of her decision to go digital. Last spring she established a Twitter handle. Next came Facebook. "And now Facebook isn't even enough!" she says. "It's taken on a little life of its own. But it's fun for me. I love talking to people in the city." With a sheepish laugh, Joyce adds that her husband has to endure a tweeting habit that sometimes "takes over" her downtime at home.

Joyce won't shy away from controversy. Just because you've been taught that a defendant is presumed innocent until proven otherwise doesn't mean she believes it.

"If I presumed everybody innocent I wouldn't prosecute anybody," she says. "One thing I'm obsessive about is making sure I don't run afoul of the law. I won't say anything that would compromise a fair trial. But at the same time I need to communicate to the public what's going on. I don't want the whole charging process done in secret."

She's already typing up her next complaint-log file, responding to a citizen who groused about her office's recent quarterly newsletter. One the articles, suggested the complainer, was too hard on a suspect nabbed for heroin. "There are drug addicts and businessmen," says Joyce. Noting that the offender in question had 17 prior arrests, "I believe this person was a businessman," she says.

So if you feel like grumbling, go ahead and cast your bait out to the South Side Shark and see if you get a bite. Joyce says you can log your laments through Twitter, Facebook or the feedback portion of her website.

If you want, you can even call her "tacky." It won't offend her. In fact, she says, she and the law student who used that word to describe her have agreed to continue their legal debate over coffee.

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2 comments
Jennifer M. Ash
Jennifer M. Ash

More transparency and responsiveness from government officials is always to be applauded.

south side guppy
south side guppy

Jennifer has been a friend of my family for a long time.  She’s very very intelligent, very tough, but also very fair and considerate.  The circuit attorney’s office has been very successful under her leadership with a conviction rate in the high 90% during her tenure.  At the same time she acknowledges how important it is to deter crime by educating children and strengthening neighborhoods.   I'm pleased to see public servants like Jennifer using new media to become more engaged with the public.  Where the justice system is concerned there is a lot of confusion.  I have no doubt that people are going to see her willingness to respond as an opportunity to flame her but I hope people will remember that her job is to enforce the law…not make it.  If you have  problem with laws and regulations you need to start with the people that make them – politicians and lawmakers.

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