St. Louis County Councilman Ernie Trakas’ political future is now up to a judge, who will likely rule before the summer ends whether Trakas violated the county charter by doing legal work for school districts.
If the answer is yes, then Trakas – who represents much of south county – would be removed from the council.
St. Charles County Circuit Judge Dan Pelikan held a brief hearing Thursday morning and ordered lawyers for both sides to submit any additional legal arguments within 30 days. Pelikan could then rule at any time, although the lawyers predict it likely will be August at the earliest before he announces his decision.
St. Charles County Prosecutor Tim Lohmar is handling the case as a special prosecutor. St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch has recused himself because his office has various matters – such as finances and pensions – that come before the council.
Lohmar contends that St. Louis County’s charter is clear.
“It all boils down to the definition of employment,’’ he told reporters after the hearing. “The county charter states that any elected official is prohibited from employment with any public governmental body, of which – of course – a school district would be one.”
The charter makes clear that the ban includes contract legal work, Lohmar said.
But Trakas and his lawyer, Jonathan Marks, contend that his school-district jobs don’t apply because the districts were not in St. Louis County.
“Our argument is that he’s just an independent contractor,’’ Marks said. “He’s not deemed an employee for that purpose of the school district. And, as a result of it, he had no conflict of interest, either, both as an attorney and completing the work for his role as a council member for the St. Louis County Council.”
Trakas blames his legal troubles on County Executive Steve Stenger, because the two have been at odds over various issues since Trakas’ election in 2016. Trakas’ 6th District used to be represented by Stenger.
“I speak truth to power,’’ Trakas said in a brief interview after Thursday’s hearing.
Stenger has said he isn’t behind the case brought against Trakas. But the county executive, also a lawyer, has noted that he had to drop his own governmental clients when he was first joined the County Council in 2009.
Meanwhile, the council is seeking to place on the August ballot a proposed charter change that would eliminate the ban on contract work. Even if voters approve the change, it wouldn’t help Trakas’ current case. But he then could run to get back on the council.
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