The mayor of tony Creve Coeur and her husband found a novel way of handling political disputes -- they sue critics

The mayor also dismisses the notion that the defendants are simply asking for an investigation into the application of conflict-of-interest charges.

"I think it is a witch hunt. We had a councilperson say that this is McCarthyism. This is just abuse," Mandel says.

The comparison to McCarthyism is something Alan Mandel echoes. Mandel, 50, serves on the executive committee of the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys and is co-counsel for the Urban League. He intimates that he's got an inside track in Missouri's Democratic Party. And even though Mandel's wife recently lost her bid for a County Council seat, Joyce Aboussie -- U.S. Representative Dick Gephardt's trusted right-hand woman -- was on board for that campaign.

Bob O'Connor, another defendant, says the prevailing attitude in Creve Coeur government is "to hell with the rules."
Jennifer Silverberg
Bob O'Connor, another defendant, says the prevailing attitude in Creve Coeur government is "to hell with the rules."
Matt LeMieux says the Creve Coeur lawsuits represent the first time since he's headed the local ACLU that the organization's been threatened "for daring to participate in a case."
Jennifer Silverberg
Matt LeMieux says the Creve Coeur lawsuits represent the first time since he's headed the local ACLU that the organization's been threatened "for daring to participate in a case."

Alan Mandel rejects the idea that the lawsuit is merely an attempt to silence his wife's critics.

"I don't think you'll find a bigger defender of the First Amendment than I am, OK?" he says in an interview. "This is not about being able to tolerate political opposition; this is about acting like idiots."

But shortly after the case was filed and eight attorneys lined up for the defendants, Alan Mandel offered to drop the cases in exchange for an apology. The defendants refused.

Not much later, Judge David Vincent granted O'Connor's motion for a summary judgment.

On August 8, he ruled that O'Connor merely was exercising his right to free speech and offering the opinions of a public official. "The language only addresses the Mayor's official duties, and the Mayor is in no way accused of any criminal conduct in this letter," Vincent wrote. "There is also no dispute about the fact that the letter written by Defendant O'Connor contains phrases such as 'in view of' and 'it would appear,' which are clearly statements of opinion."

The judge also ordered Annette Mandel to pay the costs in the case.

But Alan Mandel says Vincent shouldn't have entered the ruling so quickly -- the judge had been given until August 10 to reply.

"He made a mistake -- that's not a mistake I'm taking up on appeal," Mandel says. "He was kind of apologetic about it."

Mandel is appealing the judge's ruling.

"I have a lot of respect -- he's a good, young judge," Mandel says. But "those are issues, and I think Judge Vincent agrees, that are better decided by an appellate-court judge."

At one time, Alan Mandel was paired up with the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri. It was in 2001, and the ACLU had filed a voting-rights case. Mandel helped out, and the ACLU was appreciative.

But the association didn't end happily ever after, especially when the ACLU filed an amicus brief that wasn't friendly to the Mandels.

In a letter to the organization's legal director, Denise Lieberman, Alan Mandel wrote: "The recent decision of your organization to get involved in my wife's libel and slander action without discussion with me or attempting to ascertain all the facts shows a lack of institutional character that cannot be forgiven or forgotten.

"Please be assured that I will use my right of free speech to let my friends in the community know about the mismanagement and lack of judgment now present in a once great organization."

According to ACLU executive director Matt LeMieux, Mandel did indeed exercise his free-speech rights, and the organization received two phone calls from people asking them to step out of the cases. LeMieux won't identify who made the calls on Mandel's behalf.

"When we bring a case, regardless of who we are defending, it is a case brought on principle, and the principle is the First Amendment," LeMieux says.

In its brief, the ACLU called the cases "baseless" strategic-lawsuits-against-public-participation -- SLAPP -- cases, whose sole aim is "chilling public participation in, and criticism of, their government."

According to the brief, the defendants had a constitutional right to "petition the government for redress of grievances. This lawsuit effectively silences these defendants, and sends a clear message to other citizens in their community that it is ill-advised to raise concerns about conflict of interest standards to elected officials."

Alan Mandel says of the ACLU filing: "That brief is stupid."

Annette Mandel's reaction: "The ACLU advocates for unpopular causes, the Ku Klux Klan and the Nazis."

Says Judy Pass: "Up until now, I've been very supportive of the ACLU."

Though the ACLU filed briefs in both cases, Mayor Mandel's lawsuit was dismissed before her husband could respond. But he got his chance in the Pass case.

"That said filing by the ACLU was intended to harass and intimidate the plaintiff, mislead this Court as to the issues in this case and give the ACLU cause to file a misleading press release which serves its own interests to harass and ridicule the plaintiff," Alan Mandel wrote. He asked the judge to sanction the ACLU.

It's the first time since LeMieux's been with the ACLU in St. Louis that he can recall the organization's being threatened "for daring to participate in a case." But that, he says, only lends credibility to the ACLU's view of the lawsuits: "I think that noting that we issued a press release and that that was somehow harassing fits within the pattern of what we've seen in this case, which is, anyone who dissents will be dealt with in court."

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