County officials last week spoke out against a recent statement made by an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union.
The ACLU is representing an anonymous plaintiff in a federal lawsuit against the county. The lawsuit alleges that Presiding County Commissioner John Griesheimer violated the U.S. Constitution by leading Christian prayers at county commission meetings.
ACLU attorney Anthony Rothert recently told The Missourian that the county rejected an offer to settle the case without a counteroffer.
But County Counselor Mark Vincent said that is not true.
“That is just flat wrong,” Vincent said, adding that there was in fact a counteroffer.
Griesheimer said the ACLU wanted him to admit that he violated the Constitution.
Vincent said the counteroffer to the ACLU was that the county would admit that certain things were said but would not admit that they were unconstitutional.
Griesheimer said he is not an expert, “but I pretty well know what’s constitutional and what isn’t, at least what the Supreme Court has ruled on.”
Griesheimer added, “Unless the U.S. Supreme Court or the Missouri Supreme Court rules and says that this is the law of the land and decides that, it’s all up in the air.”
ACLU spokeswoman Diane Balogh said the gist of the ACLU’s offer was that the county agree not to return to its old prayer practices and pay $1 in damages to the plaintiff.
But Tim Belz, a St. Louis attorney helping defend the county in the case, says there was a lot more contained in the ACLU’s offer than what Balogh said.
“That’s not the whole story,” Belz said. “There’s a lot more complications than that.”
Belz is helping the Alliance Defense Fund, which is a group of private attorneys defending the county for no charge in the case.
He said he could not elaborate on the specifics of the ACLU’s offer that the county disagrees with.
Belz also said he could not release details of the counteroffer that was made to the ACLU.
“I’m just not at liberty to talk about negotiations at all,” Belz said.
The ACLU also would not release the actual letter containing the settlement offer, saying it is confidential under federal evidence guidelines.
Rothert maintains that the ACLU never received a counteroffer from the county. If the county made a counteroffer, the ACLU never heard about it, Rothert said.
Rothert said Tuesday that depositions have still not been scheduled for the case, which is filed in U.S. District Court in St. Louis.
Asked if he thinks it will go to trial, Belz said, “It depends on how the ACLU reacts to our extending of the olive branch.”