BELLEVILLE – Insurance broker Warma Witter Kreisler of O’Fallon claims in a civil suit that St. Clair County cheated it out of a contract worth about $170,000 a year.
The broker alleges that in 2017, former county grant administrator Debra Moore rigged the competition in favor of Lockton Companies of Kansas City.
Warma Witter Kreisler didn’t sue Lockton but brought it within the jurisdiction of Circuit Judge Christopher Kolker by naming it as respondent in discovery.
Kolker excluded Lockton from a confidentiality order on Jan. 14, for the moment.
“Lockton Companies shall not be considered a party to this action unless and until they are converted from a respondent in discovery to a party defendant,” Kolker wrote.
Attorney Anthony Gilbreth of Crowder and Scroggins in Columbia filed the suit in 2018.
He alleges interference with business relationship, and sought an order declaring the bid process void.
In the suit, Gilbreth wrote that Warma Witter Kreisler provided service to the county for 15 years.
He wrote that it placed the county with Illinois Counties Risk Management Trust, which recognized Warma Witter Kreisler as its exclusive agent for the county. Warma Witter Kreisler received compensation in commissions from the insurer.
According to the case file, the county paid $1,670,759 in premiums in 2016-2017, and Warma Witter Kreisler received ten percent.
Its proposal for renewal indicated it would charge no fee, according to Gilbreth.
According to the suit, Moore induced the trust’s governing body, United Counties Council of Illinois, to allow a quote from Lockton.
Warma Witter Kreisler’s bid was presented to the county board’s finance committee and to the board as a bid for $180,000.
“The foregoing actions of St. Clair County tainted the bidding process and rendered plaintiff at a substantial disadvantage in the bidding process,” Gilbreth wrote.
“Moore’s interference prevented Witter Warma Kreisler from realizing the business opportunity with St. Clair County.”
Gilbreth’s colleague Clay St. Clair and Timothy Cronin of the Simon Law Firm in St. Louis also signed the complaint.
Chief Judge Andrew Gleeson assigned the suit to himself, and St. Clair County moved to substitute him.
Any party in a civil suit in Illinois can substitute a judge once without cause if the judge has not made a substantial ruling.
Gleeson granted substitution and assigned Kolker.
County counsel Erica Doerhoff of Husch Blackwell in Clayton, Mo., moved to dismiss the complaint as moot.
She wrote that the bid was for a year, the winner performed the contract, and the year was up.
“In other words, Warma Witter Kreisler, a losing bidder, is trying to enforce rights after the fact on a moot claim,” Doerhoff wrote.
Gilbreth amended the complaint in August, after obtaining records from the county.
He claimed the records suggested Lockton collected commissions and charged fees that Warma Witter Kreisler proposed not to charge.
“Had Warma Witter Kreisler’s response been tendered to the finance committee and county board as submitted by Warma Witter Kreisler, Warma Witter Kreisler would have been the lowest responsible bidder, and presumably would have been awarded the contract,” Gilbreth wrote.
In reply, county counsel Mohsen Pasha of Husch Blackwell wrote that the county’s insurance cost increased each of the four years preceding Lockton’s selection.
“Lockton saved the county $541,411 in premiums compared to the deal Warma Witter Kreisler brokered the year before,” Pasha wrote.
He wrote that even if Warma Witter Kreisler had brokered the same deal as Lockton, that wouldn’t be enough to plead a reasonable expectation of entering into a valid business relationship.
He wrote that determination of lowest responsible bidder was not solely based on price but was based on a litany of factors, and that Warma Witter Kreisler didn’t plead a single fact as to how it would have met those factors.
He wrote that to the extent a party acts to enhance its own interests, it has a privilege to act in a way that might harm the expectancies of others.
“Moore’s alleged actions were done to further the county’s business interests, and in fact did so,” Pasha wrote.
In September, Warma Witter Kreisler added Lockton as respondent in discovery.
At a hearing later that month, over an objection from the county, Kolker granted leave to amend the complaint.
He issued a summons in discovery to Lockton.
Lockton’s involvement made a protective order necessary, and the parties brought one to Kolker.
It provides that if a party shows a confidential document to a witness retained or employed by Lockton, the party must advise the other party far enough in advance to allow for consultation between the parties.
Kolker has set trial in October.