Attorney Takes Questions About Steinert Case from District 67 Stakeholders
Lake Forest residents took to the mic Tuesday night and raised questions about the 2009 handling of a criminally convicted principal.
After months of stringent investigation into School District 67's handling of former Deer Path Middle School Principal John Steinert, several concerned Lake Forest residents asked the attorney in charge of the investigation questions of their own.
Before a full room Tuesday night at the district headquarters, attorney Ronald Safer gave his summary of an eight-page report detailing what transpired between the board and Steinert after his arrest and subsequent conviction.
“I did what you asked at the inception of the assignment,” Safer said to the public, before the close of the Q&A. “The (board's) investigation was not thorough; there was no misconduct. ...”
Lake Forest resident Deborah Dent, who accused Superintendent Harry Griffith of “gross negligence,” also accused Safer of hiding information from the public and asked him to “argue for the other side” by reconsidering his conclusions.
After recalling his decade-long work investigating “the largest gang the nation has ever known,” corrupt politicians and bank frauds, Safer concluded: “The idea that I would sacrifice the reputation I have worked all those years to get ... to cover up something here, is silly.”
Other residents, such as attorney Michael Freeman, posed questions concerning the use of Steinert's district-issued cellphone, which he used to send explicit text messages, voice mails and a lewd photo to a 22-year-old Lake Forest College student, who was an intern with the Lake Forest Police Department working at Deer Path Middle School.
Freeman said the sent text messages — which had been erased before police requested a subpoena to confiscate Steinert’s phone, while he was at work — could have been retrieved.
Safer disagreed and stated, absent a grand jury subpoena or wiretapping, only phone records and not their content may be retrieved.
Steps in Right Direction?
Michael Beacham, who was asked in winter 2011 to speak on behalf of other concerned residents, now numbering more than 100, still maintains Griffith and board members Julia Wold, Laurie Rose and Jeff Pinderski should step down. The superintendent and three board members served when Steinert resigned.
Though it is too late to pursue the matter further, Beacham said in a phone interview, it is nevertheless important that history shows the board's inadequate leadership.
“I'd love for history to accurately record what happened,” he said, “instead of simply relying on what comes out the communications office at the district.”
He also wants it made clear the superintendent lied to the community “about what he did know back in 2009, as a way of justifying (the board's) collective decision-making” when handling Steinert.
Safer, however, assured the public, the board's information was limited by their inexperience with an issue such as Steiner's, a redacted police report and guidance from a labor lawyer.
“The conclusion that Steinert was truthful and complete, however, was without any objective evidence to support it,” Safer wrote in his report. “The administration, however, obtained nothing against which to test Steinert’s assertions.”
Safer's recommended policies, found in the end of the report, seek to keep such mistakes from happening in the future.
Resident Susan Franzetti asked Safer if he was fully confident in the language of the policies, and if he would consider adding a requirement that a criminal investigator or other legal professionals be hired if this matter ever arises again.
“I think when future boards look for guidance,” Franzetti added, “this policy may be flushed out a little fuller to give them that.”
Safer, who said, “it's probably a good idea,” and John Julian, vice president of the board, both agreed.
“That certainly is a consideration for the policy committee,” Julian added.
For Aimee Messner, who has four children in the district, taking action now is nothing short of necessary.
"You can understand," Messner said, "I kind of would like to see a policy (enacted), at least, with some sense of urgency.”