Flood control suit dismissed, but fight may go on

Circuit Judge Daniel J. Stack

You can't fight city hall, as the old saying goes.

But in the case of Stephen Lathrop, you can fight -- if you hire a lawyer.

Madison County Circuit Judge Daniel Stack on Aug. 28 dismissed a suit Lathrop filed against Granite City mayor Ronald Selph and other city officials.

Lathrop claimed they blocked his plan for a "multi-reservoir, multi-use, multi-phased, flood control development" in the Dobrey Slough neighborhood.

He sued in April "pro se," as his own attorney. He had already filed and lost a suit in federal court, without legal help.

His April suit claimed the city inflicted more than $12 million in damages on him.

The city moved to dismiss the claim, and Stack set a hearing Aug. 28.

Three days before the hearing Lathrop moved to continue, telling Stack he had retained two attorneys from Birmingham, Ala.

Lathrop told Stack his attorneys needed time to decide if they would amend his complaint and file discovery requests.

Stack denied the motion and dismissed the case, though he gave Lathrop 30 days to move for reconsideration.

Lathrop owned Ramm Development, which proposed to develop Dobrey Slough.

He claimed the city wanted to develop a subdivision, DonnaLynne, at the site.

His complaint stated that, "Defendants damaged Plaintiff's business because they wanted to protect their DonnaLynne fraud scheme from competition."

In 2003 Lathrop sued in U.S. District Court in East St. Louis, charging city officials with racketeering and other illegal acts.

Three times he asked Magistrate Judge Gerald Cohn for leave to retain counsel and amend his complaint. Three times Cohn granted it.

The fourth time he asked, Cohn said no.

Lathrop asked to take 25 depositions on videotape. Cohn said he could take 10.

District Judge David Herndon ruled in 2004 that Lathrop alleged enough facts for defendants to be aware of his claims.

Herndon strongly urged Lathrop to retain counsel.

Herndon dismissed racketeering claims against the city and defendants in their official capacities, but granted leave to accuse officials of racketeering as individuals.

Herndon wrote that Lathrop alleged facts to show that mayor Selph, economic development director Dan Brown and city attorney Mark Spengler "may have acted beyond the scope of their authority."

Lathrop's list of defendants included city engineer Joe Juneau and his firm, Juneau and Associates. Joe Juneau filed a counterclaim, stating that Lathrop "did not have the business sense and/or resources to properly run his own business…"

Juneau's attorney, Holly Turner, moved for leave to file a motion for summary judgment. Herndon denied it but Turner filed it anyway.

Herndon admonished Juneau and told him he "flirted with contempt."

He admonished Turner for insolence.

Lathrop amended his complaint, but Herndon admonished him for including claims that Herndon had already stricken.

In 2005 Herndon dismissed all federal claims. He also dismissed state claims for lack of jurisdiction, telling Lathrop he could pursue those in state court.

Lathrop took that advice, writing in his Madison County complaint that Herndon "authorized and enabled" the suit.

Lathrop wrote, "For the sake of his community, plaintiff urges local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to take action to fully investigate this felony racketeering crime and all of the evidence plaintiff has produced which is directly related to it."

He numbered the pages of the complaint by hand. At the end he wrote by hand, "Plaintiff Demands Jury Trial."

He will not get one, unless the Alabama lawyers can make it happen.

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