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

That setup, LeMieux says, would protect defendants while ensuring that the law doesn't "stifle a plaintiff's legitimate libel claim."

Despite the claims that lawsuits would take the city's government out of the controversy, the battle over Pass' conflict of interest was waged once again in Creve Coeur, only a few weeks ago, at an ethics-commission meeting.

Mark Poutenis
Lawyer Alan Mandel insists that he's not trying to silence critics: "I don't think you'll find a bigger supporter of the First Amendment than I am, OK?"
Jennifer Silverberg
Lawyer Alan Mandel insists that he's not trying to silence critics: "I don't think you'll find a bigger supporter of the First Amendment than I am, OK?"

In December 2001, Terry Johnston asked the commission to determine, once and for all, whether Judy Pass had incurred a conflict of interest. The commission refused to act on the petition, then answered a generic set of questions supplied by Laura Bryant and Jeanne Rhoades. In September, four months after filing suit, Pass filed a request for an advisory opinion from the commission about the conflict-of-interest accusations.

On October 9, the commission members convened, but without their chairman, Dr. Robert Packman. The respected retired physician had resigned two days earlier.

In a letter to Annette Mandel, Packman wrote, "[T]he Ethics Commission has become involved in an imbroglio, possibly personal, but definitely paralyzing.... [I]t seems as if the Commission is being thrust into a position of being used as a pawn in personal agendas."

Alan Mandel attended the meeting of commission-turned-pawn. So did Bob O'Connor and Pati Trout.

Mandel was asked to speak about Pass' request for an advisory opinion.

"We received a written advisory opinion as far back as 1991," Alan Mandel reminded the commission members. "Certain elements of the community are either not aware of this opinion or are purposefully ignorant."

Mandel then lauded his client's "courage" in asking for a new advisory opinion. He called on the commission "to give Ms. Pass a clean bill of health based on the past ten years because she deserves it."

Carol Schulman, the acting chairwoman, asked, "Are any of these matters concerning the litigation?"

"No," the lawyer responded. "Oh yes they are," muttered Trout.

O'Connor started to speak, but Schulman shot him a look and rebuked him: "We can't have discussion!" she snapped. "We decided this some time ago."

"But Mandel's talking," O'Connor said.

"He's the legal representative!" Schulman replied.

O'Connor sighed loudly, crossed his leg and shifted his weight in the chair. Trout tightened her arms across her chest.

"Do I hear a motion?" Schulman asked.

David Lipman, former Post-Dispatch managing editor and Packman's predecessor as commission chairman, weighed in heavily during the debate. At first, he seemed to want to dodge the question once again, but after some bickering, the consensus seemed to be to defer to the 1991 ruling.

Finally Lipman asked whether the commission members were ready to vote.

"If I may," Mandel said, "the only motion on the floor is deferring to the '91 opinion at this time."

The motion was seconded and passed unanimously.

"He just slipped them a mickey," Trout grumbled.

Then she leaned over to O'Connor and whispered that she had to leave for another city-government meeting:

"From this to sewers -- it is about the same."

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