EAST ST. LOUIS – Madison County judges proposed to fly
themselves and others to California with money that veteran assistance
superintendent Brad Lavite raised for veterans, according to a lawsuit Lavite
filed against the county on Aug. 5.
Lavite pleads that the trip happened and he doesn’t know how
they paid for it.
He claims his objection to the trip resulted in retaliation
that ended when county administrator Joseph Parente banned him from his office,
in March 2015.
He seeks to lift the ban and collect damages from Parente, county
board Chairman Alan Dunstan, Sheriff John Lakin, and State’s Attorney Tom
He separately seeks to lift the ban in Madison County
circuit court, through a petition for a writ of mandamus against Parente.
Associate Judge Stephen Stobbs dismissed the petition last
year, but Fifth District appellate judges reversed him on the day Lavite sued
the county in federal court.
The appellate judges ruled that Parente lacked authority
because Lavite works for an independent veteran assistance commission.
Lavite continues working for his commissioners from other
They wrote to Parente last year that they “will not leave a
fellow fallen, disabled combat veteran, who is a highly decorated service
Tom Burkart of Hamel, the lawyer they retained to represent Lavite
in the Madison County action, also filed Lavite’s federal suit.
In the complaint, Lavite alleges Gibbons advised Parente and
Dunstan that they could ban him.
Lavite claims Lakin lacked adequate rules and procedures for
investigations he might be called on to perform pursuant to the county
personnel policy handbook.
Actions related to the ban against Lavite coincide with a
super-charged political season in Madison County, with his status already being
used as a campaign issue.
Republican candidate for
State's Attorney Ron Williams is calling on Dunstan, a Democrat, to
lift the ban and to allow Lavite to go back to work in his office at the
He also wants his political opponent Gibbons, a Democrat, to
advise Dunstan “that discriminating against a disabled and decorated combat
veteran is opening up the county taxpayers to significant financial liability,”
Williams stated in a press release.
Williams said that banning Lavite for a post traumatic stress
disorder episode last year “is wrong and the position is legally
He said that people who have been convicted of violent offenses
enter the administration building every day in order to visit the probation
department, “and they have a right to do so.”
Williams, a retired Army colonel who
completed two tours in Vietnam, said the county’s handling of LaVite’s PTSD
episode “is sending the wrong message to all military personnel and veterans.”
In Lavite’s federal lawsuit, Burkart wrote that in Iraq,
Lavite was exposed to multiple detonation and engagements with enemy forces.
He further wrote that:
Lavite was awarded a Bronze Star and other medals.
Since 2004, Lavite has been under the care of a Veterans
Administration clinical team at Jefferson Barracks.
The commission elected Lavite as superintendent in 2009.
Lavite was instrumental in setting up an alternative
treatment court for veterans, the first in Illinois and third in the nation.
A not for profit corporation, Friends of McAtac Foundation,
was incorporated in 2010, to raise funds for the new court.
Lavite is uncertain whether it was an incorporation or a
resurrection of a not for profit that was involuntarily dissolved in 2006.
The foundation offered Lavite a position on its board of friends,
and Lavite accepted it.
The Foundation for the Improvement of Justice, in Georgia,
donated $10,000 to McAtac, and the Madison County Bar Association donated
The veteran assistance commission developed procedures to
screen veterans for eligibility.
Lavite completed all screenings until the commission was
awarded a grant to supply a veteran service officer as permanent screener.
On June 11, 2010, a Veterans and Service Members Court
Treatment Act became law in Illinois.
It limited its definitions to the veteran affairs departments
of the state and the nation, and that it excluded veteran assistance
According to Burkart, Lavite received no explanation for the
exclusion, and that he “began withdrawing VAC support for the court.”
“This required the county to adjust personnel
responsibilities to fill the void and perform eligibility screenings,” Burkart
According to the suit, in 2012, Parente and probation chief
Judy Dallas asked Lavite to use some of his budget to pay the salary of a
probation department employee whose position faced elimination due to budget
cuts; Lavite rejected the request.
Burkart wrote that in 2013, the commission and the county
together hosted a gala that raised $15,000 for McAtac.
He wrote that Lavite requested a meeting of McAtac’s board
He wrote that it was the first meeting since Lavite came on
“At this 2013 meeting, it was proposed that at least part of
the $30,000 raised as mentioned above be spent to send several judges and
probation department employees to attend an alternative treatment court conference
in Anaheim, California,” Burkart wrote.
May 28 through May 31, 2014, probation department personnel as well as some of
the Madison County circuit court judges attended the 20th annual training
conference of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals in Anaheim,
“Lavite voiced his objection and dissent for the reason that
those funds had been raised on the representation that they would be used for
direct benefit to veterans.”
Burkart wrote that Lavite voiced an opinion that departments
could send personnel using their appropriated budgets.
He wrote that Lavite produced a copy of the law and that public
defender John Rakowski snatched it out of his hands.
“No vote was ever taken and Lavite has no idea how any of
the funds were utilized and for what purpose,” Burkart wrote.
Parente banned Lavite after he kicked out the windows of a
Wood River police car, on dashboard video that created a sensation.
Lavite has attributed that conduct to stress syndrome.
His doctor at Jefferson Barracks changed his medicine and
cleared him to return to work, and his wife withdrew a petition for a