Metro-East News

Monroe County assessor’s secret camera leads to $93,000 payout for former employee

Monroe County Assessor Carl Wuertz
Monroe County Assessor Carl Wuertz

Monroe County assessor’s office employee Kristin Egbert slipped into her boss’ office when he wasn’t there, left with a political speech she found on his desk, photocopied it, and then put it back, according to court documents.

Egbert would later contend that she wanted to use the copy to encourage the county prosecutor and the sheriff to investigate her boss, Assessor Carl Wuertz, for allegedly violating state law by writing a political speech on county time.

However, there was no investigation.

Instead, Wuertz fired her a few weeks later on Aug. 15, 2014. But the last laugh may be Egbert’s.

After suing to get her job back, the county agreed to settle with her for $93,000. The payout, which was finalized on Dec. 3, included $31,000 for her lawyers. She did not keep her job.

The settlement in U.S. District Court in East St. Louis did not acknowledge any wrongdoing on the part of anyone. As is typical in settlement cases, all parties involved, including Egbert, Wuertz and their attorneys, agreed to make no public comment.

And the speech?

It was actually “fake,” Wuertz testified during a deposition that was part of the lawsuit. He testified that he had prominently placed the faux document on his desk to lure Egbert, 36, whom he suspected had been entering his office when he wasn’t there to read his personal papers. The two had an uneasy relationship, possibly due to a 2011 discipline hearing where Egbert was officially admonished for spending too much time talking to friends in other courthouse offices.

Even though the parties involved would not talk, what happened is chronicled in the court file that included copies of depositions taken in the case.

Monroe County Assessor Carl Wuertz hid a 2-inch long video camera about as big around as a cigar in a box of toner on top of a file cabinet in his office.

To catch Egbert, Wuertz, 51, hid a 2-inch long video camera about as big around as a cigar in a box of toner on top of a file cabinet. A tiny hole was cut out for the spy camera’s lens. Egbert was secretly filmed over three days removing and returning the speech and twice reading from a notepad on her boss’ desk.

Wuertz testified that his intention was simply to catch a suspected intruder. But Egbert’s lawsuit complaint alleged he was trying to set her up to be fired because he knew she was upset that he had earlier passed out political items during work hours in the assessor’s office.

The political item was a “coozie,” or drink holder, emblazoned with lettering stating he was a Republican candidate for re-election. Egbert, who has stated in court that she is not a member of a political party, also testified that Wuertz told her in the office that he would not give her one of the drink holders because he knew she wasn’t a Republican.

Egbert also testified that Wuertz regularly told workers in his office, “...that it was in our best interest to register as a Republican because it was a Republican office.” That claim was denied in court papers filed by two St. Louis attorneys hired to represent Wuertz and the county. In court documents, Egbert stated her dismissal was political and constituted a violation of her First Amendment rights. Her husband, Jeff Egbert, owns the Pinckneyville Press newspaper

The Monroe County Board approved payment of $10,000 for back pay and $52,000 in other income to Kristin Egbert as well as $31,000 to her lawyers.

The Monroe County Board approved payment of $10,000 for back pay and $52,000 in other income to Egbert as well as $31,000 to her lawyers, Lee Barron of Alton and Jack Daugherty of Edwardsville.

The county was defended by attorneys Christopher Sanders and Jamie Mahler of St. Louis. Their fee was not available.

The court file did not include the actual settlement amount, but this was confirmed by the county through a Freedom of Information request by the Republic-Times, a weekly newspaper in Waterloo.

Depositions and other court documents alleged:

▪  Egbert testified that she contacted the office of State’s Attorney Kris Reitz about doing an investigation of Wuertz, but that he wouldn’t take the call. Reitz, a Democrat, told the News-Democrat that he didn’t know anything about the case and declined further comment.

▪  Then Sheriff Dan Kelley talked to Egbert about the allegations of political wrongdoing by Wuertz, but that nothing was done. Kelley retired from office in November 2014.

▪  Egbert’s attorneys stated in their complaint that it was the policy of the county “to discourage employees from reporting the illegal conduct of elected officers.” No proof of that policy was contained in publicly filed lawsuit documents.

Under questioning in a deposition, Wuertz said he became suspicious when returning from lunch and finding that a notepad he left on his desk seemed to have been moved an inch or two. He stated that’s what prompted him to install the surveillance camera.

Wuertz told the BND he was under a federal judge’s order not to make any comment concerning the lawsuit.

The following questioning from attorney Egbert’s attorney, Daugherty, transpired during the Wuertz deposition:

Q-- “Any why did you hide the camera?”

A-- “So you can’t see it.”

Q-- “Why didn’t you want anyone to see the camera?”

A-- “Hidden surveillance.”

Q-- “Why did you have hidden surveillance?”

A-- Well, if they knew I was filming, then they weren’t going to come to snoop in my office.”

George Pawlaczyk: 618-239-2625, @gapawlaczyk