Court denies appeal seeking to set aside county’s settlement with Fred Weber Inc.

Appellate court sanctions Campisi’s attorney for ‘frivolous appeal’

By BURKE WASSON

Sixth District County Councilman John Campisi’s appeal seeking to set aside a settlement agreement between St. Louis County and Fred Weber Inc. was denied last week.

While the Missouri Department of Natural Resources in July approved Weber’s application for a permit to build a trash-transfer station at 5219 Baumgartner Road, a St. Louis County Circuit Court judge granted summary judgment in favor of Weber in October 2007 to construct and operate the station. As a result, County Counselor Patricia Redington entered into a settlement agreement with Weber to drop all of the county’s litigation to stop the facility.

The County Council originally voted 7-0 in 2004 to halt the station’s construction due to concerns from the county Department of Health.

In 2005, the Eastern District of the Missouri Court of Appeals ruled that the County Council used faulty logic in denying Weber’s request for the Oakville trash-transfer station.

After Weber petitioned for the station, the County Council adopted an ordinance prohibiting trash-transfer stations within 1,000 feet of churches, residences, schools, child-care centers, nursery schools or nursing homes. Weber’s site for the transfer station on Baumgartner Road is within 1,000 feet of Canaan Baptist Church. But the Eastern District of the Missouri Court of Appeals ruled the ordinance invalid because the county did not have a public hearing nor receive a recommendation from the Planning Commission before amending its zoning ordinances.

After the Circuit Court granted summary judgment last October, Canaan Baptist Church and Semco Plastics filed a motion to intervene in November. That motion, however, was dismissed due to timeliness, which was affirmed last week by the Eastern District appellate court.

Campisi also filed an after-trial motion last November to stop the settlement agreement by contending that Redington does not have the authority to settle without County Council approval.

Campisi’s after-trial motion also alleged that Redington violated the Missouri Open Meetings and Records Law — also known as the Sunshine Law — by not making the settlement agreement public and not informing the County Council of it.

Redington disputed claims by Campisi’s attorney, Kirk Stange, that she has no authority to settle cases and pointed out that the County Charter allows the county counselor to settle without County Council approval. That motion was denied in Circuit Court last November.

Besides affirming the Circuit Court’s decision, the appellate court sanctioned Stange “for filing a frivolous appeal” and ordered him to pay the county’s legal fees.

Redington had requested that sanctions be filed against Stange for his “reckless” after-trial motion questioning her authority to settle the county’s suit with Weber and whether she violated open-government laws by not informing the County Council of the settlement agreement.

The Oct. 14 ruling by Appellate Court Judges Nannette Baker, Patricia Cohen and Roy Richter states: “The trial court did not err in denying Campisi’s after-trial motion because Campisi was not a party to the case and therefore he did not have standing to file his motion. Sanctions are imposed against Campisi’s counsel for filing a frivolous appeal. The trial court did not err in denying Semco/Canaan’s motions to intervene because the motions were not timely filed, and because allowing intervention at this stage of the litigation would prejudice existing parties. The judgment of the trial court is affirmed.”

As for sanctions against Stange, the ruling stated: “Campisi’s appeal lacks any precedential support, and is not supported by a good faith argument for the extension or modification of existing law. Not only did Campisi clearly lack standing to file his after-trial motion, but he filed it in contravention of the St. Louis County Charter, which states that no officer ‘shall have any attorney other than the county counselor.’

“County and council’s request for damages against Campisi’s counsel for frivolous appeal is granted. We award county and council $1,999.62 in attorneys’ fees, representing the amount of time that they spent in responding to Campisi’s frivolous appeal.”

Campisi said last week he is disappointed with the appellate court’s decision.

“This is something that no one in south county wanted,” Campisi said. “The voice of the people in south county was definitely deafened … On behalf of the people of south county, I did want to get in there and mix it up with the lawyers. And I did so. I’ll keep fighting for south county for as long as I can. But when it gets to the courts, that’s where it’s really hard for me to fight.”

County spokesman Mac Scott said Monday, “We’re pleased with the rulings, which verified our knowledge and understanding of the law.”