Attorneys for Madison County and veterans’ advocate Bradley Lavite appeared in court Wednesday to argue motions in Lavite’s lawsuit seeking to be permitted back into his office, six months after a mental breakdown caused by post-traumatic stress disorder.
Lavite, a decorated military veteran, has served as superintendent of the Madison County Veterans Assistance Commission since 2009. In March, Lavite had a mental breakdown at home that his doctors have attributed to post-traumatic stress disorder related to his military service. He was taken into custody by police, during which he broke a squad car window.
Lavite was sentenced to court supervision on a Class C misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct and was ordered to pay for the window.
Since then, Lavite has been locked out of his office in the Madison County Administration Building, and county officials have ordered him not to enter any county building, citing concerns about public safety. The Veterans Assistance Commission has vowed to stand by Lavite and has sued the county, seeking an injunction to force them to let Lavite return to work. While the VAC operates with county funding, under the law it is governed independently by a board nominated by local veterans’ organizations. Lavite works under the VAC’s authority, not the county’s, but works in a county building.
For the time being, Lavite has been continuing to work off-site in his position, administering assistance programs for Madison County veterans, and the county has continued to pay his salary of about $84,000 a year. On Wednesday, attorneys gave arguments on the county’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit and Lavite’s motion for the county to pay the VAC’s legal bills in this matter.
Thomas Burkart, who was hired by the VAC for the suit, argued that the county could not pick and choose which of the VAC’s vouchers to pay — once the annual budget was approved, he said, the county had an obligation to pay the bills, including his legal fees.
“The VAC has a budget, and we are well within that budget,” Burkart said. “Mr. Lavite is suing in his capacity as superintendent of the VAC, not as an individual… They have a responsibility to pay any voucher submitted by the VAC as long as they are within their budget.
Attorney John Gilbert, who represents Madison County, disagreed with Burkart’s interpretation of the law establishing the VAC’s independence. “They are subject to the oversight of the county,” he said. “All we’re arguing is that they have to follow the county regulations regarding attorney’s fees. No one is trying to limit the rights of veterans in Madison County.”
Associate Judge Stephen Stobbs took both motions under advisement and will issue rulings at a later date.
County administrator Joseph Parente, who issued the order barring Lavite from county property, declined to comment. County Chairman Alan Dunstan said Lavite is “a really nice guy” and that he wants to see him back at work.
“But with everything that goes on in the world today, we have to be concerned about safety,” Dunstan said. “All we are concerned about is the overall safety of people in our building. If we didn’t do due diligence and something happened, shame on us.”
Dunstan said he believes there is a way for Lavite to return to work, with certain guidelines and steps that Lavite would have to take in order to be permitted. He did not go into detail, but said they have communicated those steps to Lavite’s attorney.
“This has gone way too far, and all the publicity is wrong,” Dunstan said. “He’s a good employee who did a great job… He’s had some problems and we would like to see him back.”
However, Burkart said the county’s doctor is a psychologist, not a psychiatrist, and the first recommendation provided was that Lavite should follow recommendations of his treating psychiatrist.
“Mr. Lavite’s psychiatrist recommends that he return to work,” Burkart said. “The county’s position that Mr. Parente has a duty to protect people entering the county administration building assumes there is a danger against which someone needs protecting... He poses no danger to anyone.”
Contact reporter Elizabeth Donald at firstname.lastname@example.org or 618-239-2507.