CLAYTON — St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell’s office is defending the purchase of 65 iPads with mobile data plans and 15 big-screen televisions with money from the county’s federal coronavirus relief funds — an expense of about $117,000.
The purchases, which were disclosed in recent County Council minutes, have drawn some attention and criticism on social media, months after the Post-Dispatch disclosed Bell’s office had charged $30,000 in meals and travel.
Bell has responded that the expenditures are necessary to keep his attorneys connected and serve victims of domestic violence and other crimes who don’t have access to courtrooms during the pandemic.
In an email on Thursday, Paul Kreidler, the county’s director of performance management and budget, asked Bell’s chief of staff, Sam Alton, to justify the expenses to a law firm helping the county comply with federal guidelines on spending the relief money.
Alton responded the same day that lawyers and other personnel are working from home and must “appear” in court via teleconferencing. The office bought the iPads for 50 attorneys and 15 other staff members, he said.
While some employees may have had systems capable of accessing court files or participating in Zoom meetings, Alton wrote, they were using personal unsecured machines. “The iPads allow us to issue charges, attend hearings, conduct discovery, meet with judges, victims and witnesses,” Alton wrote. “They allow our office to function.”
Bell’s office also bought 10 50-inch TVs and plans to buy five 75-inch smart TVs. The smaller TVs are for office hallways, the warrant office lobby and the main lobby.
The larger TVs, which have not yet been purchased, go in two conference rooms, the grand jury room, a victim room and another meeting room.
Alton told Kreidler the iPads were insufficient for meetings involving several people, causing those meetings to be longer and ineffective. The larger monitors also better satisfy the constitutional right afforded to a criminal defendant to hear a witness testify against him and cross-examine them, Alton wrote.
As for the hallway TVs, Alton said, they would permit employees to track the work flow while the office is not at full-staff. And they are also necessary to provide updates to police officers who may have to wait outside the warrant office to meet with prosecutors.