Critic questions MSD spokesman’s use of district attorney after receiving traffic ticket

‘This is a personal matter …,’ district spokesman tells Call

By EVAN YOUNG

A longtime critic of the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District recently questioned its spokesman’s use of a district attorney after receiving a traffic ticket.

During a period for public comment at the MSD Board of Trustees’ Nov. 12 regular meeting, University City resident Tom Sullivan remarked that Lance LeComb, the district’s manager of public information, used a district lawyer to represent him in court after receiving a speeding ticket last year.

He asked the board if district employees are represented by district attorneys “for personal matters.”

LeComb said he received a speeding ticket in July 2008 while traveling on Interstate 55 in south county. He didn’t contest the citation, but asked the St. Louis County Circuit Court the following October to take impending points against his otherwise clean driving record under advisement.

“I was told by the prosecutor that I could not make this request of the court on my own, but, rather, would have to obtain an attorney to represent me,” LeComb wrote in a statement to the Call. “Not wanting to argue with the prosecutor and potentially put myself in a bad position, I simply asked that I be allowed an extension for my court date.  The extension was granted.”

On Oct. 24, according to unofficial court records on the Missouri courts’ Web site, MSD attorney Kevin Marquitz filed an entry of appearance on LeComb’s behalf.

The sewer district spokesman said Marquitz did so “as my friend.”

“A friend of mine, Kevin Marquitz, is an attorney. I also work with Kevin at MSD,” LeComb stated. “Kevin and I are in separate departments at MSD … he does not report to me and I do not report to him. Kevin and I have a well-established friendship and frequently socialize together outside of work …

“As my friend, I asked Kevin if he would recommend an attorney to represent me for the ticket. Kevin indicated that, as my friend, he would be willing to do so. Not wanting to burden him, I initially declined. However, Kevin stated that it was a simple matter and that it would take, at maximum, an hour to hour and a half of his personal time.

“Better understanding how little time and effort it would take, I acquiesced and accepted Kevin’s offer as a favor from one friend to another.”

LeComb said Marquitz wrote a letter to the court repeating LeComb’s previous request to take points associated with the traffic violation under advisement. Marquitz also subsequently filed necessary paperwork at the courthouse “on his lunch break,” and used his personal address — not MSD’s — in all correspondence with the court, LeComb said.

The court eventually agreed not to penalize LeComb’s driving record, and he paid $171.50 in fines and court costs

in November 2008, he said.

The Missouri Ethics Commission requires political subdivisions to biannually reaffirm a conflict of interest policy.

MSD’s policy, readopted on Sept. 10, states, “Members of the Board of Trustees and all district employees must avoid all conflicts of interest and the appearance of impropriety when representing the district in business dealings or making any recommendations which could affect the district.”

District trustees and employees are prohibited from having “any contracts or arrangements with the district to perform any services outside of the scope of their regular employment” and “acting in any matter which specifically gives special monetary benefit to himself or herself, his or her spouse or children, any close family members or any business associate.”

LeComb said Marquitz didn’t charge him for his legal services and maintains the is-sue wasn’t handled on MSD’s time.

“This is a personal matter — any activities related to this matter took place on mine or Kevin’s personal time,” LeComb stated. “In short, Kevin, as my friend, offered to do me a personal favor, and, as his friend, I accepted.”

Attorney fees for speeding tickets vary based on the severity of the violation, representatives from area traffic law firms told the Call last week. While such firms as Budget Traffic Law in south county and Lutfiyya Law Firm in Brentwood offer fees starting at $45 and $50, respectively, a representative from The Traffic Lawyers — a Kansas City-based firm with a satellite office in St. Louis — said attorney fees for “basic speeding tickets” also could range from $150 to $200.

Marquitz told the Call he has “never represented an MSD employee on a personal matter while working for MSD,” and reiterated that he handled LeComb’s speeding ticket on his personal time.

“I responded on my own time, and it didn’t affect or impact the business of MSD,” Marquitz said.

Board of Trustees Chairman John Goffstein told Sullivan Nov. 12 he didn’t “know of any law against” district attorneys representing MSD employees in personal legal matters.

“Lawyers help their friends out all the time,” said Goffstein, himself an attorney.

“So, you don’t have any problem with that at all?” Sullivan asked.

The chairman replied, “None whatsoever.”

“So if an MSD employee has an MSD attorney for a personal matter, you don’t think that’s a problem?” Sullivan said.

“I’d even help you out Tom,” Goffstein replied.

“Oh I don’t know about that,” Sullivan said.