The high-priced legal work Elbert Walton has been performing for the Normandy Fire District is reminiscent of what happened when he worked as the attorney for the City of Berkeley in the late nineties.
He and then mayor (now state rep), Ted Hoskins, ran the city. According to a 1999 article in the Post-Dispatch:
For more than a year, Walton and Hoskins have been almost inseparable in running Berkeley. They took Berkeley through one lawsuit after another and engaged in unusual practices, such as giving the oath of office to the second-place finisher (Hopper) in a council race and insisting that Hoskins was mayor, after he was recalled in a citywide election.
But their alliance began to unravel at a council meeting one February evening in 1999 when longtime resident Manuel “Ink” Levin complained that Walton’s legal bills were awfully high.
Hoskins refused to discuss the bills, but Walton said they were public information.
Walton was unapologetic about bills totaling nearly $400,000 and said he deserved to be paid for his work. At that point, Hoskins conceded that Walton’s bills were excessive, called for a closed session of the council, and voted with the others to fire Walton. The dismissal apparently didn’t faze Walton, though. He delivered a blistering, hour-long speech against Hoskins while the council was in closed session. Once the closed session ended and the firing was official, Walton insisted that the action was illegal because the council had failed to vote in public, as required.
“I’m not going anywhere,” Walton said in an interview. “I’m not turning over any of my cases. Ted Hoskins can’t tell me nothing. He can’t tell nobody what to do.”
And in a way he was as good as his word. He sued the city of Berkeley for wrongful dismissal. That court case dragged through three appeals and was settled only last May by the Missouri Supreme Court in favor of the city of Berkeley. But even after all that, a legal glitch allows Walton to pursue the case again if he chooses:
Walton will now take his case back to trial court for a fourth shot at an impoverished neighborhood that can hardly afford the expense.
Is the moral of Walton’s history with the city of Berkeley that the Normandy Fire District may be saddled with a very expensive albatross? Perhaps.
At least in Normandy, Walton’s allies have not deserted him, and thus the community is taking aim at the two fire board members who hired him rather than at Walton himself directly. That’s a safer course of action.
My advice to any new board members who might replace Joe Washington and Robert Edwards is that if the board decides to dismiss Walton, it hire a competent lawyer to examine his contract with the board to make sure that any dismissal will stand up in court. Because, as an acquaintance of mine pointed out about Walton, “He files lawsuits by the gross.”