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Judge rules Trakas can keep post on the St. Louis County Council

St. Louis County Councilman Ernie Trakas, R-South St. Louis County, speaks to reporters on Sept. 18, 2018.  A judge ruled that Trakas did not violate a charter provision against governmental employment when he did legal work for school districts.
Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis County Councilman Ernie Trakas, R-South St. Louis County, speaks to reporters on Sept. 18, 2018. A judge ruled that Trakas did not violate a charter provision against governmental employment when he did legal work for school districts.

A St. Charles County judge ruled that a St. Louis County councilman did not violate a prohibition against working for a government agency.

The decision means that Councilman Ernie Trakas can remain on the St. Louis County Council — an outcome the south St. Louis County Republican said he expected.

At issue was that Trakas, an attorney,does legal work for school districts. His clients include districts in Jefferson City, Sikeston and Cape Girardeau. A special prosecutor, St. Charles County Prosecutor Tim Lohmar, contended that violated the county charter prohibition against a council member having government employment. (St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch asked another prosecutor to take the case, which a judge granted.)

In a decision released on Tuesday afternoon, St. Charles County Judge Daniel Pelikan ruled that Trakas did not violate the charter — and, therefore, didn’t have to forfeit his job.

“Trakas operates his own law practice; he is not fully employed by any public school district,” Pelikin wrote. When he has taken cases from a public school district, he has done so on his terms of representation. He can reject any potential client from any public school district that seeks him out. His legal work takes place in his office, not at the place of business of the public school districts. Trakas is completely free of any control over his performance of his legal work by the public school district.”

Based on prior decisions, Trakas would be considered “an independent contractor and therefore not ‘employed’ by the public school districts for whom he has provided legal representation on an ad-hoc, case-by-case basis.”

After Tuesday’s St. Louis County Council meeting, Trakas said he always felt he would be able to continue to serve on the council.

“I had confidence this would be the result,” Trakas said. “Am I glad that it’s finally over? Of course. It takes that one item off my list of to-do things.”

Trakas has been part of a coalition of council members fiercely opposed to St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger. He accused Stenger of trying to engineer his ouster, which the Democratic chief executive denied.

“The bible tells us that, ‘If God is with you, then who can stand against you?’ This is proof of that,” Trakas said. “Certainly no elected official, regardless of position, is going to be able to file frivolous matters to intimidate or chill a representative of this body from doing the people's work.”

Asked if he would continue to do legal work for school districts, Trakas replied: “I’m going to continue to represent clients, yes. I’m going to continue to do that.”

St. Louis County votersapproved a change to the charterlast month that allows council members to enter into independent-contracting arrangements with government agencies.

“I’m not employed by them. They don’t control the conditions of my employment,” he said. “I have no plans on changing what I do.”

A spokeswoman for Lohmar said he couldn’t comment on the ruling until Wednesday.

Council approves Justice Center pay raise

Meanwhile, councilmembers gave final approval Tuesdayto raises for employeesof the St. Louis County Justice Center.

Last year, St. Louis County voters passed a half-cent sales tax known as Proposition P. Most of the money went toward raises for, among other places, the St. Louis County Police Department. But corrections officers and nurses didn’t get the same raise. And that led those employees to lobby the council for months.

After a bitter impasse, Stenger and the Council came to a compromise: About $781,000 from Prop P funds will go toward giving Justice Center employees a raise. Of those funds, about $376,000 will be reimbursed to the Department of Health. Corrections officers and nurses will get anywhere from a 10- to 16-percent raise.

The bill, which passed without opposition, now goes to Stenger’s desk for his signature.

Follow Jason on Twitter:@jrosenbaum

Copyright 2021 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Since entering the world of professional journalism in 2006, Jason Rosenbaum dove head first into the world of politics, policy and even rock and roll music. A graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, Rosenbaum spent more than four years in the Missouri State Capitol writing for the Columbia Daily Tribune, Missouri Lawyers Media and the St. Louis Beacon.