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Court orders county to pay part of veteran commission head's legal fees from PTSD controversy

Telegraph - 1/31/2019

Jan. 31--EDWARDSVILLE -- Madison County officials are expected to meet in the near future to discuss ongoing litigation over the prior administration's refusal to allow Veterans Assistance Comission Chairman Brad Lavite into the Administration Building following an episode of post-traumatic stress disorder.

The Illinois Fifth District Appellate Court in Mount Vernon recently handed down a ruling that the county must pay the balance of a portion of Lavite's unpaid legal fees, approximately $45,000.

County Administrator Doug Hulme said they needed to meet with attorneys and County Board members, and that the issue would have to go through at least the Finance Committee before coming to the full board for action.

The decision was filed Jan. 2.

The cases stem from Lavite being banned from the Madison County Administration Building in March 2015 because of a post-traumatic stress breakdown. Although he had been cleared to return to work by a psychiatrist with the St. Louis Veteran's Administration Medical Center, a child psychologist with the county disagreed, prompting former Chairman Alan Dunstan's administration to ban Lavite from the building over safety concerns.

The initial lawsuits in the case were filed by Lavite against the county, Dunstan, then-County Administrator Joe Parente, and Sheriff John Lakin in July 2016.

Allowing Lavite back into the building was one of the first official acts by then-newly elected Board Chairman Kurt Prenzler.

The latest ruling deals primarily with fees for Lavite's attorney, Thomas W. Burkart.

Various county officials had argued that there were "insufficient funds" in the VAC's budget to pay the full amount of the original invoice, $60,365.92; and that invoices submitted by Burkart had too many redactions. Burkart argued that the redaction's were necessary because additional information would violate attorney-client privilege.

A second invoice submitted covering the original fees and new fees, totaling $96,021.80 was filed in November 2016.

Since then, legal issues over the matter have been moving between state and federal courts. The state case has gone to the Fifth Appellate Court three times.

Appellate Judge Judy Cates, who wrote the opinion, noted that both parties had very different interpretations of the original appellate opinion, saying the plaintiff (Lavite) "has attempted to stretch the decision and mandate"...."while the Board has attempted to contract it."

"The parsing of the opinion was a disservice to the trial court, and frankly, has not served either side well," the opinion stated.

It was also noted that the larger issue was "the Madison County Board and the VAC are grappling over the amount of control and oversight the county has over VAC operations and expenditures..."

Cates wrote that the VAC has control over its expenses, and it is the responsibility of the County to pay them.

Cates said the "undisputed facts" were that as VAC superintendent, Lavite had the authority to review and approve the invoices, that there were "sufficient" funds available in the 2016 budget to pay the original invoice, and that if that created a budget deficit the VAC could have requested a supplemental appropriation from the County Board.

Hulme said Wednesday county officials do not have a timetable on making a decision on how to proceed.

Reach reporter Scott Cousins at 618-208-6447.


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