One of the more surprising lawsuits filed in St. Charles County in 2011 contained the allegation by a female employee at the St. Charles County Election Authority that her boss, Director Rich Chrismer, sexually harassed her.
Mary Benefield, of Old Monroe, filed the lawsuit in October. She had worked in the office since 1989. On Dec. 30, she transferred to the St. Charles County Prosecuting Attorney's Office, where she works in restitution and bad checks.
I certainly was surprised by the allegations against Chrismer.
Not because I know whether it's true that Chrismer groped her or if he followed her home from work, as she alleges. But because of what I know about Chrismer, who has denied the allegations.
For example, in April 2008, I wrote a column about how Chrismer and his wife attended an invitation-only dinner at the White House to honor Pope Benedict XVI. Chrismer chatted briefly that night with then-President George Bush. We published a photo of Chrismer and his wife standing by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
Earlier that day the Chrismers were among 250 people who sang "Happy Birthday" to the pope on the South Lawn of the White House.
Chrismer, 65, has been director of elections since 2002. He was a state representative eight years. He served three tours in Vietnam.
None of that means the allegations are necessarily false. It's just that, as I said, I was personally surprised.
The lawsuit is in its early stages. Who knows if it will go to trial. Benefield seeks $500,000 in damages.
Benefield's attorney, Larry Bagsby of St. Charles, filed pleadings that state — or maybe a better word is "threaten" — that if the matter goes to trial, witnesses will include County Executive Steve Ehlmann; Chuck Gross, the county's director of administration; attorneys in the County Counselor's Office; and Belinda Little, the county's human resources director.
In addition, according to Bagsby, he will likely call to the stand the sitting members of the County Council.
If you missed the point, Bagsby spells it out: "The litigation in this case will bring before a jury the entire hierarchy of St. Charles County government, its administration, and elected officials."
That's great movie-trailer material. But as we all know, movie trailers sometimes are better than the actual movies and, every once in a while, contain scenes not even in the movie.
Regardless, it's clear Bagsby would love to hold St. Charles County at least partially responsible for the alleged actions of Chrismer, who is an independently elected official.
Bagsby already has won one legal battle. He wanted someone other than a St. Charles County judge to hear the case. The judge will be T. Bennett Burkemper Jr., an associate circuit judge in Lincoln County.
V. Scott Williams of the St. Charles firm of Hazelwood & Weber represents St. Charles County. The most curious element of his early defense is the argument there's no such thing as the "St. Charles County Election Authority."
If true, there are countless corrections that must run for the hundreds, if not thousands, of times the office has been described in those words in newspapers and on TV. It's also what the office is called on the county's website.
But if I understand Williams' argument correctly, it's that Chrismer himself is the election authority because he's the elected director. Ergo, when you sue the St. Charles County Election Authority you're actually suing Richard Chrismer.
How awkward it must be these days to work at — take your pick — the St. Charles County Election Authority/the Richard Chrismer Election Authority.
Keep in mind that Benefield's lawsuit alleges Chrismer stalked her on the way home from work, peeped through doors as she exercised at work, groped her as she handed him paperwork and made offensive comments about her clothing and body.
And even though Mary Benefield no longer works in the office, her sister does. Her sister, hired in 1980, is one of 11 full-time employees.
Furthermore, Benefield's husband works there, too. Chrismer hired him in 2004.
All this makes me wonder whether they had an office Christmas party this year. Was there a grab-bag gift exchange?
If so, what do you get for the man who allegedly groped your wife?