Newspaper Court Fight Tests Legal Strategy

Newspaper Court Fight Tests Legal Strategy 5.00/5 (100.00%) 1 vote

By Barry Dredze

Village of Winfield photo from the Village of Winfield Village website at villageofwinfield.com.

Village of Winfield photo from the Village of Winfield Village website at villageofwinfield.com.

In what is being hailed by advocates as the first successful application of the State of Illinois’ Citizens Protection Act, a DuPage Circuit Court Judge dismissed a defamation lawsuit on Tuesday, November 18 filed against a Winfield newspaper publisher by a Village Trustee who also publishes another local paper.

Winfield Village Trustee Tony Reyes had filed a defamation lawsuit in the Circuit Court of DuPage County on April 25, 2014 against Winfield Express publisher Robert Greer. Reyes’ attorney Thomas E. Sullivan has reportedly expressed willingness to appeal the ruling.

The suit was the lead story in the May 2, 2014 issue of the Village Chronicles, a bi-monthly newspaper published in neighboring Warrenville and in which The Winfield Glimpses, a competing newspaper in Winfield, is inserted monthly. Trustee Reyes is listed on the masthead of The Glimpses as president and Reyes’ attorney Thomas E. Sullivan is listed as secretary.

Greer’s attorney Robert Dawidiuk of the Collins Law Firm cited the Citizens Protection Act in defending as protected speech Greer’s reporting on persistent suspicions of Reyes’ role in a real estate deal while serving on the West Chicago High School District 94 Board in 2004 and raised in public comments during Plan Commission discussions over commercial development on Roosevelt Road in Winfield. District 94 includes a large portion of the Village of Winfield.

“None of it rises to the level of defamation,” Judge Dorothy French Mallen said of the lawsuit. “The plaintiff has not provided clear and convincing evidence that the paper and Mr. Greer’s motivation was not solely to participate in the constitutionally-protected free speech and government.”

“The elements of the story are less important than the peoples’ right to report on questions being raised in public meetings,” Dawidiuk said. Dawidiuk’s law firm was contacted by the Citizen Advocacy Center (CAC) of Elmhurst to represent Greer and the Winfield Express pro-bono.

The Citizens Protection Act was designed to counter legal action known as a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP), used by public officials and private interests to shut down criticism by filing lawsuits against critics for damages.

Reyes was ordered to pay the newspaper’s legal costs as required by the Citizen Participation Act as a deterrent against filing SLAPP actions.

“Fortunately, in 2007 Illinois passed an anti-SLAPP law, called the Citizen Participation Act, that allows such suits to be quickly dismissed,” CAC executive director Maryam Judar said in a statement.

(Barry Drezde is a freelance writer and contributor to the Illinois News Network and writer with The Winfield Post. Reach him at thewinfieldpost[email protected].)

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