JeffCo Judge Arrested for DWI and Assault – Wegge to Not Recuse?

30 Nov

Last night, November 29, Nathan Stewart, the Jefferson County circuit judge for division 3, was involved in a one-car accident along Route BB south of Cedar Rock Road, according to the Highway Patrol. He went off the road and hit a power pole.

stewart-accident

Missouri Highway Patrol report on Stewart accident

These MO HP images are hard to see, best to click on the links in my text to view them on the HP website.

Stewart, who was defeated earlier this month in his bid for re-election as the Democratic candidate against a GOP wave, and thus only has about a month left in his term, was arrested on the scene for misdemeanor driving while intoxicated and felony 2nd degree assault, and taken to the Jefferson County Jail before being quickly released.

stewart-arrest

Missouri Highway Patrol arrest report on Stewart

Under state law, one of the definitions of 2nd degree assault is:

While in an intoxicated condition or under the influence of controlled substances or drugs, operates a motor vehicle in this state and, when so operating, acts with criminal negligence to cause physical injury to any other person than himself;

This applies in this case because Stewart had a passenger who received moderate injuries and was taken to the hospital. Interestingly, starting January 1st, the legal definition of 2nd degree assault no longer includes the above language. I’m not sure where this offense will fit at that time, but this case falls under the law as it stands now.

I am told by the Highway Patrol that the reports about this incident won’t be available for 10 business days. I will follow up once I acquire them.

Recusal

Of course, this case will not be able to be handled in Jefferson County, you would think. The prosecutor’s office and every judge would have to recuse themselves. I mean, JeffCo Prosecutor Forrest Wegge has to, right, even though he failed to recuse himself the first time around in the Dianne Critchlow case? But no, here’s what Wegge’s office told Fox 2:

We also asked whether or not a special prosecutor would be appointed to review last night’s accident, but we are told the final decision on possible charges will be made by the Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. The decision could takes weeks, or months.

REALLY?!? Wegge’s going to take this case, even though his office has tried many cases in front of Stewart, and they are both members of the JeffCo Democratic party? Maybe he should glance at the ethics manual. Even if he does decide to prosecute (unlikely – he probably wants to just wait until we all forget about it, then drop the case), what judge will hear it? It will have to go to another county.

In the meantime, will Stewart try to serve out his term, or just step aside? The Fox 2 article goes into this a bit. It says Stewart has several DWI cases on his docket next week. One lawyer assumes the cases will be continued (delayed).

I am interested to see which lawyer defends Stewart if this goes to trial. He had a lot of the Hillsboro legal establishment backing him during the campaign – who will he turn to in his hour of need?

stewart-mug

Nathan Stewart booking photo, from the Mobile Patrol app

DWI Issues and JeffCo Laywers

There have been a few alcohol incidents involving members of the local criminal justice system in recent history. Here are examples:

  • Assistant county prosecutor Catherine Crowley was out of a job a day after seeming to be drunk in court (in Stewart’s courtroom, no less) in May 2015.
  • Prominent Festus lawyer, and former county prosecutor and municipal judge, Michael Lowry was involved in an apparent drunk driving accident in 2004, but was allowed to go home, and no charges were filed.
  • JeffCo prosecutor Forrest Wegge was arrested for drunk driving in 2003 (before he became prosecutor).

Am I missing anyone?

Pevely Lost $3,000 in Gun Money

18 Nov

At the September 19, 2016 board of aldermen meeting, Pevely mayor Steph Haas announced (at the 8:55 mark of the video) that, when the city’s police department bought new guns (Glocks) in 2014, instead of trading back the old guns (Sig Sauers – sounds like a downgrade to me), these were sold to city police officers. The cops were able to pay $235 to purchase their used duty Sig Sauer weapons and take personal ownership of them.

However, the process was handled quite poorly (whether intentionally or through incompetence) by former Pevely police officer Kevin Sullivan, who now works for the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office. The money, much of it in cash, went missing. Sullivan claims he gave it to former city clerk Bill Hanks, but Sullivan did not get a receipt or any proof that this handover took place.

In July 2015 (three months after Haas was elected), attorney Tom Duggan, on behalf of the city, wrote to Jefferson County prosecutor Forrest Wegge (the guy who is utterly failing to prosecute Dianne Critchlow) and asked him to request that the Missouri Highway Patrol (MHP) investigate the case. Wegge did so, and the MHP conducted an investigation. Here’s the request letter:

In total, the city bought 27 Sigs, and had 26 Glocks to sell or trade in. The trade-in value of the 26 Glocks was $6,170. In Duggan’s letter, he claims that the money missing included $2,615 in cash and $2,820 in checks (three guns were not yet paid for), which adds up to the $5,435 Sullivan says he collected. It is not clear to me what happened with the apparently unsold guns.

The MHP investigation, which ended in October 2015, was a dead end, as the investigator claimed to be unable to determine who was responsible, Sullivan or Hanks (although no bank or other records were pulled as part of the investigation). In her announcement, Haas said that $2,174 in checks had been reissued by officers (the original checks that Sullivan collected were never deposited or cashed) to the city. This amount is $646 short of the original amount of checks collected. Haas also said that two guns were turned in to the city (this would account for $470 of that $646, if the turned-in guns were originally paid for by check). However, the cash payments were being written off, because nobody knows where the money ended up. So the city is out over $3,000. Haas stated that Wegge was declining to prosecute anyone related to this case (that is starting to sound familiar).

If you ask me, this is all on officer Sullivan. He did a poor job of keeping track of who paid him, he collected a bunch of cash, and, if he actually did give the money to Hanks (who would not have been the correct person to give the money to anyway), he did not get any type of receipt. The question is, did Sullivan pocket the money himself, or was there a scheme in which he refunded the money to the officers so they could all get free guns? Both of these possibilities were posed to Sullivan in his interview with MHP and he denied them both. Here’s the final MHP report:

Hasty Departures

Both Sullivan and Hanks left the city abruptly right before the Duggan letter was sent, according to Leader reports at the time. Sullivan went “on vacation” June 16, 2015 and started his new job at the Sheriff’s Office on July 6, in another example of police forces passing on their questionable employees to other agencies. Hanks resigned from the city on June 9. Around this time, many closed sessions of the board of aldermen were being held, but nobody was commenting on what was taking place.

At the time, Hanks said he left for personal reasons, but in his MHP interview he said it was a forced resignation. He said Duggan and city administrator Dickie Brown accused him of copying personnel records for personal use, and he quit in order to “stay out of the politics.” It sounds like the city, instead of trying to find and punish the thief and get the money back, preferred to just wash its hands of the matter by forcing both suspects out of their jobs.

In the report, Hanks admits he engaged in a “high school prank that went wrong” when he was 18 and ended up with a theft charge. In his interview, Sullivan volunteered, unprompted, that Hanks “could not walk through the police station unescorted” because of the theft charge. He also volunteered, unprompted, that Hanks was forced to resign from the city. It sounds to me like Sullivan thought he found himself a patsy. He could pocket the money and blame it on the guy who had been charged with theft.

Hanks volunteered in his interview that he heard Sullivan was forced to resign because he covered up an assault by one officer on another officer. Between that, the gun mess, and Pevely’s revenue-oriented traffic ticketing, it sounds like recently-retired police chief Ron Weeks was not running a very tight ship as he bade his time until he became eligible for a LAGERS pension after the city joined the program.

Misuse of Information

What Haas failed to mention at the board meeting was that there was another infraction that MHP investigated. This was an August 2014 release of non-public police information onto Facebook, as mentioned on page 2 of the Duggan letter. The information concerned the son of Dave Bewig, the impeached former alderman and foe of Mayor Haas.

Office Kyle Weiss was fingered as the culprit during the investigation, and he admitted his guilt to MHP. As you can see in the MHP report above, this is a class A misdemeanor. However, no charges have been filed by Wegge against Weiss.

It should be noted that Weiss received a Missouri Medal of Valor in December 2014 after exchanging gunfire with and killing a wanted fugitive who had previously wounded two police officers in October 2013. But it does not appear that he acted with valor when he misused official information.

Big Labor Power Waning in JeffCo

16 Nov

According to liberal Post-Dispatch columnist (is there any other kind)?) Tony Messenger, unsuccessful Missouri Democratic candidate for governor Chris Koster began his election day in Arnold, speaking to union grocery workers.

This is not too surprising, as JeffCo has long been seen as a union stronghold. But the results of Tuesday’s election suggest that those days are in the past.

One of the major issues of the gubernatorial campaign was right to work. GOP candidate Eric Greitens was all for it, while Koster was strongly against it. One would think that this would have made a big difference in our county. But Greitens carried Jefferson County by a 53.6 percent to 42.7 percent margin, even bigger than his statewide 51.3 – 45.4 win.

In local legislative races, two incumbent representatives who have cast votes in favor of right to work were on the ballot. Rob Vescovo, Republican in the 112th district, won a rematch with Robert Butler by a 59.6 percent t0 40.3 percent margin. Two years ago, Vescovo won with 60.0 percent of the vote, so his right to work support had virtually no effect on his margin of victory.

Likewise, Dan Shaul, Republican in the 113th district, won re-election by a 57.8 to 42.1 margin. Two years ago, he received 56.9 percent of the vote against an arguably weaker opponent. His foe this year, Karen Settlemoir-Berg, actually works for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union.

While most Republican legislators from JeffCo still oppose right to work (RTW), it is clear now that supporting it is not a career-killer for local politicians like it has been perceived to be in the past. But now that Missouri has a Republican governor, only a bare majority in the Legislature, instead of a veto-proof one, will be needed to pass a RTW law. It is likely that, in a few short months, RTW will be passed and signed and will be taken off the table as a political issue.

Strike Two for Critchlow Justice, But Hope Remains

10 Nov

The news came out today (right before a holiday weekend) that the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Missouri was not going to press federal charges against disgraced former superintendent Dianne Critchlow after a four-month investigation into her theft from the Fox school district, much to the anger of Arnold residents. This investigation took place after JeffCo prosecutor Forrest Wegge punted the case to the feds. Despite the adage that you can indict a ham sandwich, apparently you can’t indict a corrupt school administrator. I think perhaps the distinction, but not one that the US Attorney explicitly made, was that they could not find sufficient federal laws to prosecute her under.

But it’s not over quite yet. The JeffCo and St. Charles County prosecutor’s offices confirm that the St. Charles County prosecutor is going to review the case. An additional investigation is not taking place; prosecutor Tim Lohmar will take a look at what information has already been uncovered.

While I was initially told that the US Attorney appointed Lohmar, this was incorrect. It is most likely, but nobody could confirm this, that it was Wegge who passed this on to St. Charles County. But why? The most common reason for such a move is a conflict of interest. And on this note, I heard from a few people who believe that there is some sort of acquaintance/friendship between Wegge and Critchlow. This would be a reason for recusal, but Wegge did not pass on the initial investigation. He looked into the state audit results for 6 weeks before giving the case to the feds.

Is he trying to get a second opinion on what, if anything, to charge her with? (Here’s my list of suggestions). In any case, we have one last bit of hope that some legal repercussions will hit Critchlow. If not, this nauseating statement from her lawyer will stand:

“We are very pleased with the outcome of the federal investigation, clearing Dr. Critchlow of any wrongdoing,” [Brandy] Barth said in the statement.

“While she has allowed this investigation to run its course, she has always trusted in the system and believed that a fair and impartial investigation would clear her name. She is ecstatic that this day has finally arrived.”

Some Post-Election Notes

9 Nov

It was a clean sweep in JeffCo for the Republicans, as they won every office in the county, and received majorities here in every statewide race. The one that most surprises me, I’d say, is sheriff. I figured that Democrat candidate Steve Meinberg’s experience as Glenn Boyer’s right-hand man would overcome the GOP tide, since Boyer seems to be fairly popular, but GOP candidate Dave Marshak won with a big 58% of the vote.

Donald Trump received 64.5% of the JeffCo vote, with almost 69,000 votes out of 107,000. By comparison, here are the totals of the last two presidential winners of our county:

2012: Mitt Romney: 55%, 54,000 votes out of 97,700

2008: Barack Obama, 50.5%, 53,000 votes out of 105,700

As you see, Trump blew them out big league. For another comparison, Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson got 3,966 votes here this year, versus 1,715 in 2012, getting more than double the votes this time.

Here’s a table comparing Trump and statewide GOP candidates’ vote percentages in JeffCo versus statewide:

gop-2016-nov-percents

As you see, Trump’s statewide numbers were in line with some of the other candidates (Josh Hawley even got more total votes than Trump). But in JeffCo, Trump far exceeded the other GOP statewide candidates. So this former rep, who was defeated in 2014, was partially right:

“There’s ticket splitters galore this year,” said former state Rep. Michael Frame, who used to represent part of Jefferson County. “I have heard the Trump-Koster thing a million times over. Folks are talking about that quite a bit in the diners, in the Hardee’s, at the McDonald’s.”

While Democrats Chris Koster and Jason Kander got 14-15,000 more votes in JeffCo than Hillary Clinton did, it was not enough to overcome their GOP opponents. In every case, the GOP candidate got a higher vote percentage in JeffCo than he did Missouri-wide. Instead of a bellwether or a swing county, JeffCo is becoming an important vote source for Republican candidates in Missouri.

Vote percentages for GOP candidates in the countywide races ranged from 55-62%, not including the judicial race for division 1, which Republican Wes Yates won with only 52% of the vote. So with the possible exception of Yates, I’d say that Trump’s coattails weren’t needed to facilitate the JeffCo GOP sweep of 2016.

Trump’s big numbers here can only mean he won some Democrat votes. Considering that the average vote count among Republicans listed on all county ballots was about 58,000, compared to Trump’s almost 69,000, that means that about 10,000 county Dems voted for him. The way he won over so many Democratic voters (or Hillary scared them away) in our blue-collar county is probably indicative of how he won the presidential election.

In my next post, I will take a look at the weakened state of Big Labor in our county.

Some Pre-Election Notes

7 Nov

Here are some things I’ve noticed, heading into tomorrow’s election:

-Trisha Stefanski ran as a Republican in the primary for associate circuit judge, division 13, and was unsuccessful. Now she signs on to a supposedly bipartisan Leader ad endorsing all the county Democrat candidates for judge:

judge-ad2

I understand the ideal that we should vote for the person, not the party, in these judge races, but if Stefanski thinks all the Democratic candidates are better, then one wonders why she ran as a Republican?

-I’ve seen a few ads for Democrat house candidate Karen Settlemoir-Berg on Instagram. It is interesting to see local candidates make use (or not) of social media.

-It doesn’t seem proper for sheriff candidates, and the current sheriff, to appear in uniform in their campaign ads:

meiny

This is Democrat candidate Steve Meinberg, with current sheriff Glenn Boyer. I have also seen GOP candidate Dave Marshak in uniform in his ads, but those photos aren’t plastered all over billboards. Meinberg also claims to have the endorsement of most of the sheriff’s office command staff – but do they really support him, or do they fear for their jobs if he wins and they aren’t on board the bandwagon?

Here is Democrat county assessor candidate Todd Melkus in a campaign photo, presumably in his office with his coworkers (he currently works at the assessor’s office). Again, seems rather inappropriate.

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-Democrat house candidate Robert Butler continues to talk about the lawsuit he filed against opponent and incumbent Rob Vescovo, even though he lost. I imagine this is not the first frivolous lawsuit Butler, an attorney, has filed.

-The Leader endorsements were an even split, with 7 GOP candidates getting the nod, including all legislature incumbents, and 7 Democrats selected, including 3 of the 4 judge spots.

judge-ad2

Roorda Misleads on Port

4 Nov

I previously wondered whether or not county council candidate Jeff Roorda was actively campaigning for the office. He has since begun to do so. His main spiel this campaign is to compare the county council to a barge that sank in the Mississippi River in January, while blaming the council for buying the uninsured barge. While this is cutesy, it is wrong on the facts. The barge was bought by the JeffCo Port Authority, not the county council. One would think that a seasoned politician like Roorda would know this. While I realize he has been mostly focused on St. Louis City and County these past two years, I think this division of authority has not escaped Roorda. I think he’s just stretching the truth, as he is wont to do in his campaigns.

Roorda also brags that he helped acquire $200,000 of funding for the port. While he may have played some role in that, it is small potatoes compared to the $750,000 that Senator Paul Wieland landed when he was a representative. In addition, while claiming to be a big port supporter and the sole arbiter of who deserves credit for the port, Roorda actually voted against port funding in 2013. The port funding was attached to a bill that funded the Department of Revenue for 8 months, with the remaining 4 months of funding to be considered later. But JeffCo Democrats were so worried about that DOR funding (this was after DOR was found to be sharing concealed carry license info with the feds) that they voted against the bill, and thus against the port funding.

And while Roorda claims nothing has happened with the port, there is in fact a lot of activity on the riverfront, including a barge fleeting operation, sand loading and shipment, and coming soon, the Delta Queen. But he might not be paying attention to us here in JeffCo.

Roorda’s Focus Elsewhere

I have mentioned before Roorda’s preoccupation with sharing his incendiary views on cable TV. Roorda claims this as one of his great accomplisments.

I fight every day for cops. Other than Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke, no one has spent more time on CNN, Fox and other national networks standing up for the police.

Like that guy you know that agrees with you on the issues but embarrasses you when he argues his case in a foolish way, I’m not sure Roorda is an effective advocate for police, given his divisiveness. And I have to ask, if a controversial police shooting takes place on the second Monday of a month, where would a councilman Roorda go: to the scheduled council meeting, or to the TV studio to get his mug on CNN?

And what about his rumored involvement in the St. Louis mayoral race (the vote is in April):

It would be difficult for Roorda to be a councilman while trying to run a St. Louis political campaign. And if Dotson were to win the election (unlikely), Roorda would probably be in line for a spot in Dotson’s administration. How could he serve St. Louis and JeffCo at the same time? Roorda needs to come clean on what his plans are in regards to a Dotson campaign and a Dotson administration.

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