EAST ST. LOUIS – When Hamilton County dropped out as a class action client for Swansea attorney David Cates, he found a new client in the St. Clair County government that his family helped to elect.
On Feb. 20, two weeks after the firm of Cates and Mahoney filed a complaint for St. Clair County as lead plaintiff in a federal suit over highway guardrails, the firm gave $250 to the campaign fund of county board chairman Mark Kern.
That check followed a long trail of Cates family contributions to St. Clair County Democrats and their central committee, adding up to $17,505 since 1999.
Last year Cates and Mahoney gave $500 to county treasurer Charles Suarez, $450 to judicial candidate Heinz Rudolf, and $250 each to Kern and the central committee.
In 2013, the firm gave $650 to the central committee and $400 to Suarez.
In 2011 and 2012, before Cates teamed with Ryan Mahoney, his firm gave $2,000 to the central committee, $600 to judge Vincent Lopinot, $400 to Suarez, and $200 to coroner Rick Stone.
Cates’s father, former county highway engineer Darrell Cates, gave $6,750 to the central committee and $500 each to Kern and Judge John Baricevic from 1999 to 2007.
Cates’s mother, Fifth District appellate judge Judy Cates, gave $1,200 to Suarez and $180 to the central committee last year.
Neither Kern nor state’s attorney Brendan Kelly returned calls asking how St. Clair County involved itself in the suit.
Minutes of county board meetings in December and January don’t mention it.
Cates and Mahoney sued Trinity Industries in November, on behalf of Hamilton and Macon counties.
They alleged that Trinity concealed dangerous defects.
They sought restitution for wrongful profits and an injunction requiring replacement of guardrails on every county road in Illinois.
On Feb. 6, Cates and Mahoney amended their complaint to remove Hamilton County and install St. Clair County as lead plaintiff.
Hamilton County state’s attorney Justin Hood said last week that, “We were out of it almost as soon as we were in it.”
He said he would explain after the case closes.
Macon County remains as second plaintiff.