Officials deny impropriety in handling of court case

Prebil gives Forand check for $87.50; amount Duke billed Grantwood Village.

By EVAN YOUNG

Both the Grantwood Village Board of Trustees chairman and village attorney last week denied any wrongdoing in the handling of an incident last summer involving the chairman’s grandson.

Grantwood Village Board Treasurer Cathy Forand and Clerk Nancy Humes have called on Chairman Robert Prebil to resign after they say he used his elected status to have the village attorney drop two misdemeanor charges against his grandson last July. They’ve also questioned the role Village Attorney and Prosecutor Jeff Duke played in the matter.

But both men denied any impropriety during the March 16 regular board meeting, which drew an audience of more than 50 people. Village Police Commissioner Glenn Biffignani was absent.

Duke said Prebil called him several days after the chairman’s grandson, Adam Snyder of Concord, was cited for third-degree assault and stealing under $500 July 1 in the parking lot of Grant’s Farm.

Snyder had called locksmith Donald Sparks of A-All Lock & Key Co. to unlock his car, but didn’t have enough money to pay the $65 bill. When Sparks tried to re-lock the car, Snyder, according to police reports, closed the door on the locksmith’s arm.

Both Prebil and Duke stressed that Snyder was never arrested, and that a court summons was issued in lieu of an arrest. The Call reported Snyder was arrested because the county investigative report on the incident stated he was “arrested-released on summons.”

Snyder’s father, Steve, said his son paid the locksmith the day after the alleged incident.

“We’re not talking about anybody with a record,” Steve Snyder said of his son at last week’s meeting. “He doesn’t have a vindictive bone in his body.”

Forand and Humes contend Prebil asked Duke to get rid of the misdemeanor charges, but the attorney said last week that Prebil only wanted to know if there was “anything we can do about this.”

In a July 6 e-mail to village court clerk Jennifer Wesloh, Duke wrote that “I intend” to “nolle pros” — not pursue — Snyder’s case. But Duke said March 16 the case wasn’t “quashed” because it never reached village jurisdiction from St. Louis County, with which the village contracts for police services.

“Shortly after the alleged incident, an arrest notification was prepared by the responding officer … The arrest notification and police report were not placed in the court system as is the case for a summons for an ordinance violation,” Duke said. “These documents came to me informally, either handed to me or left in my mailbox at the village — I honestly don’t remember. I asked my assistant to create a file and wait for the paperwork, which usually consists of an arrest report or summons, to work its way through the system.

“As in many or most cases of assault, the primary objective in administering justice at the municipal level is to en-sure that the injured party is made whole — example, out-of-pocket expenses reimbursed, locksmith paid for services. If the municipality assesses a fine against an individual and charges are levied, the municipality is enriched but the injured party is left holding the bag, or more specifically, un-reimbursed for damages.

“In fact just about two weeks prior to the case at-hand, arrests were made in a different assault case in the village. Arrest notifications were also prepared in that case,” Duke continued. “The same type of paperwork without traditional tickets went through the court system to the court clerk in the customary way, and the case appeared on the September (2009) docket. Ultimately the court encouraged the parties to work out the settlement for reimbursed medical expenses and the charges there were not prosecuted …

“The Snyder case never came within the jurisdiction of Grantwood’s court because it never was properly routed or entered into the system. Thanks to the investigation by Trustees Humes and Forand, the paperwork was located and the case will now be prosecuted through the court system. It is on the May 2010 docket.”

Duke billed the village $87.50 for time and correspondence related to the case because it was “court business” and not “personal,” he said. But Prebil said he did not intend for the village to be billed $87.50 for Duke’s help. He presented Forand with a check for that amount at last week’s meeting.

“Thankfully because of the investigation by two trustees, the paperwork has now been found and the case may now properly come through our court,” Prebil said. “I made an error in judgment, and I apologize for that.”

Forand has said she discovered the interaction between Prebil and Duke while the board was interviewing law firms last month. Duke’s contract with the village expires this July, and trustees were reviewing past attorney invoices to determine what types of legal services were needed, Forand said.

At the March 16 board meeting, Prebil said last August he received a copy of Duke’s July invoice to the village — which included the $87.50 charge — but admitted “I just perused it.”

“I don’t pay attention unless there’s a large amount on there, maybe for … $1,000 for a particular incident,” Prebil said. “Then I read it to see what the situation is. The amount I gave to Cathy today ($87.50) I didn’t pay attention to it because it wasn’t anything of significance.”

Village resident Mike Martin told Prebil, “You’re a trustee that we trust to pay our bills. If you’re looking over stuff back in August … and you’re not paying attention to the bills that you pay, how can we trust you? You then call our prosecutor, the person who’s supposed to defend the hurt person involved here. He charges you $87.50 to take care of your grandson so he doesn’t get charged. That’s a conflict of interest. He should be disbarred. That’s disgraceful.”

Prebil said, “I doubt that.”

“I don’t doubt it,” Martin replied.

Citing media coverage of Prebil’s situation, resident Ron Ladd said the village was making a big deal out of a “very minor matter.”

“I think we’re making a mountain out of a molehill here. I think this is a ridiculous discussion on a very minor matter …,” Ladd said. “Why are we making such a political football out of this, and who is trying to gain what from it? I wonder why we do this kind of thing. It seems silly to me.”

But Humes said, “I would like to just address you guys who are saying this is no big deal. And that’s fine because that’s why I wanted to tell the residents, because it’s up to you guys to decide. But when this came through, (Prebil) made the phone call to Jeff to say: ‘Can you make this go away?’ and guess what, it went away. Now how many other phone calls transpired like that? What else happened like that? That was just one thing that happened to get caught.

“Now if you are accepting of that kind of behavior, then I think that’s great. But that is why the whole thing came down. The paperwork did not get lost. The paperwork appeared when we questioned it. That’s all. This wasn’t some wild thing. This was a breakdown in procedure and process flow and everything else that we stand for — are supposed to stand for — on the board.

“When nobody’s looking — well we happened to look and ask the question, and this is what we found,” Humes said. “I was very upset about it, and I am very upset about it.”

At a special town-hall meeting conducted earlier this month, Forand and Humes invited residents to sign a petition calling for Prebil’s resignation. The chairman, who has served on the board since 1997, is up for re-election next in April 2011.

So far, the petition has garnered about 20 signatures, but residents have volunteered to go door-to-door to collect more, Forand said last Thursday.

She and Humes also have said that the board could terminate Duke’s contract before July with three affirmative votes, but they don’t have the other three trustees’ support.

Resident Garvin Marty proposed last week that the village form a six- to eight-member citizen committee, with trustee input, to “revise the structure” of the Grantwood Village government.

“To me the 80 bucks is meaningless. To me the concern is what other things do we need to be aware of? What other things need to be modified, changed?” Marty said. “And if we don’t do that, if we want to sit back like we have … for years and do nothing, then I think we’re going to continue to have some type of problem … I think we need to put into effect some serious changes in our style of government.”