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Attorneys Argue Over Fate Of Former City Corrections Commissioner

Former St. Louis corrections commissioner Gene Stubblefield and his attorney at a 2011 hearing of the city's public safety committee
Rachel Lippmann | St. Louis Public Radio
A Tuesday hearing of the public safety committee was the first time suspended corrections commissioner Gene Stubblefield (L) answered questions about recent jail breaks. His attorney, Sherrie Schroder, is at right.

The fate of the city of St. Louis 's former corrections commissioner is now in the hands of Judge Robert Dierker.

Attorneys for Eugene Stubblefield and for the city made their points in front of Dierker Monday morning. It was the latest step in a case that began in September 2011, when Stubblefield was suspended just hours before the fourth escape from a city jail in 15 months. He was fired in December 2011, a decision upheld by the city's Civil Service commission. 

Stubblefield sued, saying:

"...the charges were vague and that the city had used the two months between his suspension and firing to engage in a fishing expedition to discover or manipulate any evidence or wrongdoing, no matter how spurious or unsubstantiated a charge may have been, so that the City could scapegoat Plaintiff [Stubblefield] to relieve itself of the embarrassment of recent jail escapes."

None of the reasons given to the Civil Service Commission focused on the escapes.  Instead, Stubblefield was cited for poor record-keeping that led to a backlog of more than $600,000 in bills, and for failing to follow procedure when making an emergency expenditure to upgrade a computer system that controls most of the systems at the City Justice Center downtown. He was also cited for failing to following personnel procedures.

James Nowogrocki, Stubblefield's attorney, said his client was hired to run the jails, not be an accountant. Anything he did, Nowogrocki said, was to make sure that inmates stayed behind bars and guards stayed safe. Nowogrocki also argued that the city failed to follow its own policy by firing Stubblefield before disciplining him in any other way.

The city's lawyer, Michael Garvin, said evidence showed the software upgrade was not an emergency. Even if it was, Garvin said, there are procedures in place to do that work which Subblefield didn't follow.He also pointed out that city policy allows for an employee to be fired immediately if the circumstances are serious enough.

Stubblefield is seeking his reinstatement and back pay. A ruling could take months. The transcript from the Civil Service Commission hearing alone is 3,000 pages. He has also filed a federal suit alleging racial discrimination.

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.