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'Grim Reaper' trespass case at Kern house is appealed

A brief encounter between Belleville's Grim Reaper of Radio and the St. Clair County Board chairman's wife is headed to the appellate court.

Radio personality Bob Romanik is accusing St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly of playing politics with a misdemeanor criminal case involving Romanik and County Board Chairman Mark Kern's wife, Erin. Romanik was charged Dec. 23 with disorderly conduct and criminal trespass after a confrontation with Erin Kern outside her home at 111 S. High St. near downtown Belleville.

Erin Kern alleged Romanik, 63, wouldn't leave her property after she repeatedly told him to. Her complaint alleges he kept questioning her about whether she even lived there, in such an "unreasonable manner as to alarm and disturb" her.

Romanik argued he was never on her property and just wanted to prove his theory that the Kerns didn't live in the former medical building. He said he left within 30 seconds.

Associate Judge Brian Babka agreed with Romanik's argument and threw out the case last month. Kelly said his office appealed that decision Tuesday because it set a bad precedent.

"And now Brendan Kelly never talking to me, never knowing anything about this whole case ... knowing nothing about it, is appealing it on the words of Mrs. Kern only because she is the chairman's wife," Romanik said.

"Election's coming up. And they don't want to say 'hey, hey, we screwed up.' They want this appealed at the taxpayers' expense. They want this appealed at the taxpayers' expense so they don't look bad."

Kelly issued a prepared statement.

"In this six-page written decision, the court dismissed the criminal trespass charge because the defendant argued the complainant in the case was not on the deed and, therefore, not the owner," Kelly stated. "Limiting the definition of owner to individuals whose name appears on the deed has significant legal ramifications beyond any one simple misdemeanor, including police investigative procedures, and with regards to trespassing, the right of individuals, including tenants, to secure their property and the ability of individuals to use force to defend their property."

Kelly said the appeal would not cost taxpayers additional money.

"We get the same services from the appellate prosecutor's office if we get one appeal or 100 appeals," he said.

Kelly said the only time he talked to the Kerns about the case was to tell them of court dates and to provide them with the judge's decision, as he would for any victims.

The Kerns did not return calls.

Babka threw out Romanik's charges April 23 in response to a motion by Romanik's attorney, Paul Storment Jr.

"The defendant's alleged violation of the statute is that he asked the alleged victim questions about the occupancy of her residence after he was instructed to leave, which can not reasonably be argued to convey any threat to the alleged victim," Babka's ruling states. "As defense counsel pointed out, the only viable charge in this instance would be trespassing. (But that charge was dismissed, as defendant established that the victim was not an owner of the property ...)."

Babka said he could not comment on the case.

Kelly's appeal is the fifth time in the past 10 years that the St. Clair County State's Attorney's office has appealed a dismissal of a misdemeanor charge, according to the Circuit Clerk's office.

"It's not that unusual for a misdemeanor to be appealed especially if there is a concern a judge has done something contrary to law," said Stephen Norris, deputy director of the Fifth District's State's Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor office.

Romanik said the charges never should have been filed. He plans to file his own legal action, saying the charges filed by the Kerns were an attempt to suppress his First Amendment rights.

"Brendan Kelly's office has no evidence of anything," he said. "They have Mrs. Kern's word against my word."

Romanik said that on Dec. 23 he parked his radio station vehicle in the lot for County Democratic Party Chairman Robert Sprague's law office, which is next door to Kern's home. He was there to deliver a Freedom of Information request to Sprague, who was Belleville's city attorney.

Both properties are owned by Mark Kern, county records show.

When Romanik realized Sprague's office was closed, he went near Kern's home in order to take pictures. Earlier that day, he speculated on his radio show that the Kerns didn't actually live there because they would be "rotten" people to submit their children to that neighborhood when they could afford to move out.

Romanik said next thing he knew, Erin Kern confronted him like a "wild woman" and told him repeatedly to get off her property.

"It was funny as hell because in the report it says Mrs. Kern's son said there is a creepy guy down by the trash can," Romanik said.

The Kerns reported the incident to police later the same day, hours after Romanik left. Erin Kern told police she feared for her safety and knew Romanik had been hostile toward her family on his radio show and thought he was broadcasting their encounter over the air.

Bellevile police arrested Romanik on the misdemeanors Dec. 26. Belleville Police spokesman Capt. Don Sax said he could not comment on an ongoing case.

"Why wouldn't they -- and here is my question as a police officer -- take her report, get a hold of me for a statement and give it to the state's attorney?" Romanik said. "Why would they just arbitrarily let her sign an invalid complaint? You know why. It's because it's the ex-mayor and the current County Board chairman's wife. And if these policemen want to better themselves, they can't go against the political hierarchy."

Romanik regularly bashes the leaders of the county Democratic Party, to which Kelly, Babka and Kern all belong, on his daily show that is broadcast on one of his son's four radio stations. Romanik is a former Washington Park police chief and a felon who pleaded guilty to bank fraud and obstructing justice.

Romanik said Kelly should have asked for a special prosecutor when the case was filed. State's attorneys can request special prosecutors in cases involving an appearance of impropriety, according to Norris. In this kind of case, it is up to the state's attorney because there is no direct conflict of interest, he said.

Kelly said no conflict existed in this case.

"The County Board chairman has no authority over the state's attorney in terms of decisions involving prosecution in any case," Kelly said. "I have prosecuted plenty of politicians -- Democrats and Republicans -- because it's my duty to do so. Just as it is my duty to defend victims regardless of their political status. That is also my duty."