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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Robert Edwards: Ousted Chairman of Northeast Ambulance and Fire Loses Court Appeal

Posted By on Tue, Feb 22, 2011 at 11:10 AM

click to enlarge Robert Edwards lost job after holding meetings without a quorum.
  • Robert Edwards lost job after holding meetings without a quorum.
The Missouri Court of Appeals for the Eastern District yesterday handed down a ruling confirming a St. Louis County verdict from last year that stripped Robert Edwards of his leadership position with the Northeast Ambulance and Fire Protection District.

During Edwards' time on the board, members of the agency (responsible for emergency services for much of north St. Louis County) were accused of graft, cronyism, financial mismanagement and skirting Missouri open-record laws. The scheme was allegedly orchestrated at the behest of board attorney Elbert Walton Jr., who billed the district hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees each year and, in return, assisted board members in crafting lucrative payouts and pensions to enrich themselves.

In late 2009, St. Louis county prosecutor Bob McCulloch filed suit to remove Edwards via a "quo warranto" action in which the Northeast chairman was accused of conducting meetings without a quorum. In January of last year, St. Louis County Judge Dale Hood found Edwards to be at fault and removed him from the board. Edwards appealed the decision.

In yesterday's ruling, the appellate court found that Edwards had abused his power by conducting three meetings in October 2009 without a quorum. At those meetings, Edwards seconded his own motions and sent the board into private sessions where he conducted district business in secrecy.

In his appeal, Edwards argued that as a public official he is immune from liability for acts of negligence. The appellate court disagreed, writing that immunity only applies when government officials act in a legitimate manner. "Edwards exercised his legislative functions in an illegitimate manner by unilaterally exercising the powers of the full Board without a quorum and majority vote," wrote presiding judge Glenn Norton.

The appellate court also disagreed with Edwards claims that the court could not force him to forfeit his position. For that, the court turned to the law itself, which states that officers can be removed for conducting business without a quorum. The appellate court also referred to court testimony in which, "The (lower) court's finding of willfulness was in large part based upon its determination that the State's witness was credible, while Edwards and attorney Elbert Walton were incredible."

Incredible. That's a good way to describe the Northeast saga.

Keep up on all the St. Louis news, opinion and snark by following Daily RFT on Facebook or Twitter @chadgarrison.

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