A crowd of veterans rallied in support of Brad Lavite outside the Madison County courthouse in August 2016.
EAST ST. LOUIS – Current and former Madison County leaders acted reasonably when they banned veterans assistance superintendent Brad Lavite from the administration building, U.S. District Judge David Herndon ruled on Oct. 29.
Herndon granted summary judgment to state’s attorney Tom Gibbons, sheriff John Lakin, former board chairman Alan Dunstan, and former administrator Joseph Parente.
They banned Lavite in 2015, after he kicked windows out of a Wood River police car in a post-traumatic episode at his home. Lavite was exposed to multiple explosions in Iraq and suffered serious injuries in combat, Herndon wrote.
Lavite was elected by the veterans assistance commission to serve as superintendent in 2009, and helped set up the first alternative treatment court for veterans in Illinois.
Herndon wrote that Lavite accepted a position on a foundation with the stated purpose of raising funds for the veterans’ court.
He wrote that the foundation raised $30,000.
In 2013, Lavite requested a meeting to discuss expenditures, according to Herndon’s order.
“At the meeting, it was proposed that at least part of the $30,000 raised be sent to send several judges and probation department employees to attend an alternative treatment court conference in Anaheim, California,” Herndon wrote.
“Plaintiff voiced his objection to the proposal because the funds were to be used for the direct benefit of veterans.”
He wrote that Lavite, who had been under the care of a clinical team in the Veterans Administration medical center at Jefferson Barracks since 2004, suffered a PTSD episode on March 5, 2015.
A letter from VA psychiatrist Jane Loitman, about two weeks later on March 18, advised that he would be able to work without limitations on March 23, Herndon’s order states.
Herndon wrote that on March 20, Parente issued an order that Lavite “not be permitted on county property and if he appears, he is to be arrested for trespassing.”
Lavite sued Dunstan, Parente, Gibbons, and Lakin in 2016, claiming they banned him in retaliation for statements he made in 2013.
The claim failed with Herndon due to timing.
Herndon wrote that for two years, knowing Lavite expressed an opposing viewpoint on the use of veterans commission funds, they did not ban him.
He wrote that they banned him within weeks of the episode. He rejected a claim of free speech, finding that when government employees fulfill their responsibilities they don’t speak as citizens for First Amendment purposes.
Herndon rejected a claim of free assembly, finding it didn’t apply in the building.
“In this case, the building is a general government office building that has not been traditionally open to the public for the purposes of assembly,” Herndon wrote.
“If it is clear that a plaintiff will be unable to satisfy the legal requirements necessary to establish his case, summary judgment is not only appropriate, but mandated.
“The court believes that summary judgment is appropriate here because the record supports such a finding.”
Tom Burkart and Karen Burkart of Hamel represented Lavite.
Christi Swick and John Gilbert of Sandberg Phoenix in St. Louis represented Gibbons, Lakin, Dunstan, and Parente.