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 Gibbons.
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 locations.
They wrote to Parente last year that they “will not leave a fellow fallen, disabled combat veteran, who is a highly decorated service member, behind.”
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 Administration Building.
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 indefensible."
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 $5,000.
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 commissions.
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 wrote.
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 of friends.
He wrote that it was the first meeting since Lavite came on the board.
“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.
"Between 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, California.
“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 restraining order.