The Madison County Record Jul. 22, 2007, 3:12am

You may have experienced it for yourself. Employers are now shying away from offering honest job references for fear they'll end up in court. And this fear is justified-- ex-employees unhappy with what's been said about them have gotten into the habit of pegging their ex-bosses with multi-million dollar lawsuits.

An honest assessment? Sometimes, it's just not worth it.

One of the scarier cases-in-point has surfaced here in St. Clair County, where probationary East St. Louis police officer Bruce Horstmann has filed a $1 million-plus suit against St. Clair County State's Attorney Robert Haida.

An ex-Belleville cop, the 35 year-old Horstmann blames Haida's negative evaluation for his being rebuffed by departments in St. Louis, Alton, Fairview Heights and Maryville.

"My office will not pursue the prosecution of any case which is based solely upon the testimony of Officer Bruce Horstmann or is otherwise based on the testimony of Officer Horstmann," read letters allegedly sent by Haida to local police chiefs.

Horstmann says he has never been convicted of a crime, though he did have a public brush with the law on the eve of his wedding in Aug. 2005. Then a member of the Belleville force, he was charged with a misdemeanor count of "knowingly causing bodily harm" for allegedly kicking the wedding maid-of-honor in a tavern parking lot after a night of partying.

She started it, Horstmann's wife said.

What specifically is provoking Haida's animus toward Horstmann, we couldn't say. But it's clear that St. Clair county's top prosecutor hasn't opted to take the easy route here.

Equivocation and accommodation for their own sake are plain dangerous and have no place in the police officer interview process. The leaders we trust to keep our communities safe should be able to make hard, candid and sometimes uncomfortable judgments without having to worry about hiring a lawyer.

That doesn't mean Haida's perception cannot be wrong, or that his view isn't subjective. But it's his sworn duty to voice it, and we should all be thankful that he has.

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