Former Supreme Court Judge And An Attorney Picked For St. Louis County Police Board | St. Louis Public Radio

Former Supreme Court Judge And An Attorney Picked For St. Louis County Police Board

Nov 1, 2019

St. Louis County Executive Sam Page nominated two new members to the five-person Board of Police Commissioners on Friday. 

Page picked former Missouri Supreme Court Judge Ray Price and local attorney Michelle Schwerin. The lawyers are meant to replace Laurie Westfall, the widow of former County Executive Buzz Westfall, and Roland Corvington, a former FBI agent who stepped down from the police board earlier in the week.

The nominations still need confirmation by the county council. Neither nominee could be reached for comment Friday.

Page has said he was looking to replace police board members for a number of weeks, but he stepped up efforts over the past few days after a jury awarded a gay police officer $20 million in a discrimination lawsuit. 

Sgt. Keith Wildhaber said he had been passed over for a promotion in the St. Louis County Police Department several times because of his sexual orientation. 

The ruling spurred Page to call for a change of culture at the police department. He said there needed to be new leadership — starting with the board that oversees the department’s operations.

Price was the longest-serving member of the Missouri Supreme Court. He was appointed to the state’s highest court in 1992 by then-Gov. John Ashcroft and served for 20 years before resigning in 2012. 

After stepping down, he was the face of a campaign to oppose giving the governor more power over picking judges to the state’s highest court.

While on the court, Price was known for advocating for alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders — particularly drug courts. Price has said Missouri should devote more money to programs that keep people out of jail. 

Before moving to St. Louis, Price served on a similar police board in Kansas City in the 1980s. He is currently a partner with the Armstrong Teasdale law firm.  

Schwerin is a certified public accountant in addition to being an attorney with the Capes Sokol law firm. One of her specialties is criminal tax investigations. She teaches at Webster University, where she works with students in the master’s program for forensic accounting.

Their confirmation hearings are scheduled for 4 p.m. Monday.

Councilwoman Rochelle Walton Gray, D-Blackjack, said changes to the police board have been needed for years. Walton Gray said she feels the current board is too deferential to the police department’s top leaders, including the chief, and it doesn’t seek out independent sources for information on law enforcement.

“They felt that the chief — not only Chief Belmar, but whoever was chief at the time — that whatever they would suggest or recommend, they should agree to,” she said of the police board members.

After last week’s verdict in the discrimination lawsuit, Councilwoman Lisa Clancy, D-Maplewood, called for Belmar’s resignation. Another council member, Ernie Trakas, R-St. Louis County, expressed his support for Belmar.

Councilman Tim Fitch, R-St. Louis County, said he will be asking Page’s appointees whether they intend to push Belmar out of his job if seated on the commission. Fitch used to serve as the county’s police chief.

“What is their goal going in?” Fitch said. “Is it to improve the police department so they can deliver a better service to the public? Or is it to just to go after certain individuals such as the chief?"

Follow Julie O'Donoghue on Twitter: @jsodonoghue

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