Madison - St. Clair Record

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Seventh Circuit upholds dismissal of Lavite's case against Madison County officials over admin building ban

Federal Court

By Karen Kidd | Sep 10, 2019

U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals Judge David F. Hamilton |

CHICAGO — Current and former Madison County officials did not violate a veterans assistance superintendent's constitutional rights when he was banned from the county's administration building in 2015, a federal appeals court affirmed last month.

The officials did not violate Madison County Veteran Assistance Superintendent Brad Lavite's right to assemble on government property, a U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals three-judge panel said in its Aug. 7 ruling.

The appeals court agreed with a lower court's decision to dismiss Lavite's case against Madison County State's Attorney Tom Gibbons, Sheriff John Lakin, Former Madison County Board Chairman Alan Dunstan and former County Administrator Joseph Parente. The appeals court ruled in part that Lavite's rights to assemble had not been violated because banning him from the administration building "was viewpoint-neutral and reasonably motivated by legitimate safety concerns."

U.S. District Judge David Herndon ruled in October that the officials had acted reasonably in Lavite's ban. Herndon, in his order, also declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over a remaining state claim.

The appeals court also agreed with the lower court that Lavite's evidence didn't prove "a reasonable inference of causation" between the ban and his earlier objections about funds allegedly diverted from his commission's budget. Lavite had alleged that funds raised by the nonprofit Friends of McAtac Foundation, intended to assist veterans, had been diverted.

"Given the passage of time and the weakness of the circumstantial evidence, we conclude that any inference that the 2015 ban was motivated by the 2013 budget objections would be unreasonably speculative," the appeals court said in its 20-page decision.

Appeals court Judge David F. Hamilton wrote the appeals court's decision in which Judge Amy C. Barrett and Judge Michael Y. Scudder Jr. concurred.

The appeals court's decision and other multiple layers of litigation pursued by Lavite stem from a ban issued by Dunstan in March 2015 that prevented Lavite from entering the Madison County Administration Building following an alleged post-traumatic stress episode. During that episode, Lavite allegedly threatened a police officer and kicked out the windows of a Wood River squad car.

Lavite, a 16-year veteran U.S. Army veteran who earned a Bronze Star and Purple Heart for his service in Iraq, has been superintendent of the county's Veterans Assistance Commission since January of 2009

Throughout his ban, Lavite kept his job but worked remotely.

The following summer, Lavite sued various county officials over the ban and the alleged retaliation.

Lavite was allowed back into his office in December 2016 after Dunstan's successor, Kurt Prenzler, in his first action as the new Madison County Board Chairman lifted the by then 21-month ban on Lavite from entering the county's administration building.

In March of last year, Herndon issued an order directing the county to defend Lavite's retaliation claims.

In January, the Illinois Fifth District Appellate Court ruled the county must pay about $45,000 in Lavite's unpaid legal fees.

In March, a U.S. Magistrate judge declined to issue sanctions against the county, Dunstan, Parente, and Gibbons over allegations that documents Lavite required to pursue his litigation had been destroyed.

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