Posts Tagged ‘SLAPP
[Click above to embiggen: the miraculous thing that got me to admit that there is something kind of awesome about sportsball after all. And — Great Merciful Zeus! — this is actually a bad picture of Kris Bryant! Move over and get out of town, Zac Ephron. You are nothing to me now!]
For those of you who don’t know, Chicago is right at this very moment flush with excitement over the Cubs doing well in their sportsball-playing this year. There are “W” signs all over town, which when I first moved here I thought were left out by people who were either celebrating and/or protesting George W. Bush.
But it has nothing to do with our former president. It’s actually a Cubs thing…with the “W” standing for “Win.” I think. People here go nuts whenever the Cubs win at sportsball real good. The “W” is how they let you know they approve of this sportsball winning on a large public scale. And if you don’t like that, you can just suck it, Chicago-style.
Generally speaking, I know as much about sportsball as the average straight man knows about Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Maybe less. Growing up in the ruins of inner city Cleveland, I never played much sportsball as a kid because there weren’t a lot of other kids around to play with. If I had grown up on the halcyon fields of suburbia, maybe I would have turned out differently. I would have still ended up gay because I believe that was baked-into my DNA…but I could have turned out as a gay who was wild about sportsball. I’ve only recently discovered that such jock-strapped unicorns do indeed exist (and are actually quite plentiful in Chicago). Who knew?
For some perspective, the blight and urban decay that accompanies one-party Democrat rule over major US cities had completely engulfed Cleveland in the 1970s…and what I call “The Nothing” inched closer to our street every year throughout my childhood and teen years in the 1980s and 1990s, with families moving away and homes and businesses being abandoned. Those of us that didn’t flee the city for the suburbs got to watch it rot from the inside out, which is something that happened to every city that elects only Democrats to most public offices in town. Detroit. Pittsburgh. Gary, Indiana. Your own town (if you keep voting for Democrats).
My parents loved sportsball — especially the Indians — and every now and again they would have the optimistic idea (or sad delusion) that dragging me to a sportsball game would either be a good idea or be “good for me,” or both. This, in retrospect, would be like your taking your gay bestie from work to Hooters for his birthday and hoping he’d see something he liked (other than the boneless Thai chili or peach habernero wings on the menu). Bless your heart. Your poor, sad, delusional, but well-intentioned heart.
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[Click above to embiggen: Carla Burkhart and her Thundercats-loving attorney Joshua Feagans have lost their SLAPP in DuPage County.]
Something that all conservatives need to start paying more attention to are SLAPPs: strategic litigation against public participation. These are lawsuits that Democrats file against people and groups who expose corruption in public bodies. There has been a resurgence in SLAPPs in recent years, as the Left increasingly uses this type of “lawfare” as a way of silencing the public and taking away people’s First Amendment Rights to Petition government for change and redress of grievances. The goal of a SLAPP is to make people afraid of writing about (or otherwise speaking out about) bad things that public bodies do and to intimidate watchdog groups so that people are too afraid of being sued to engage in the political process or use the Freedom of Information Act to uncover wrongdoing by public bodies.
Essentially, Democrats have figured out that to get away with doing more terrible things, they need to go after and silence people who figure out they are doing terrible things. SLAPPs are a weapon they use to pervert the legal system and bully people into shutting up and allowing Democrats to do whatever they want with taxpayer money in public bodies.
Megan Fox and I were hit with a SLAPP lawsuit in 2014 — which we prevailed in — by a woman named Bridget Bittman, who just happens to be heiress to the Comiskey family, which used to own the White Sox sportsball team up until the 1950s. Comiskey Park was named after her family. Bittman’s maternal grandmother Dorothy Comiskey Rigney was the last female owner of the White Sox; she married one of the baseball players that she owned, John Rigney. Megan and I encountered Bittman, the Comiskey granddaughter, in the fall of 2013 when she worked as the public spokesman for the Orland Park Public Library. This was the library that Megan and I discovered was covering-up sex crimes for years, including men openly masturbating at computers, sexually harassing women, stalking female employees in the stacks, accosting children sexually, and even accessing child pornography (with library staff knowing it kept happening, but choosing not to call the police as they were required by law to do). Bittman lied to the media about what was going on, claiming that no sex crimes were happening. We also discovered that library employees had been spending thousands of dollars at a local jewelry store buying gold for board members and even taking trustees out for $500 steak dinners to ensure that the board always did what library staff wanted and the sex crimes were kept covered up.
Megan and I used FOIA requests to find the library’s internal documents that revealed that library staff had for years deliberately covered up incidents like this. We had to take the library and the Village of Orland Park to chancery court to force them to give us some documents that they tried to keep hidden. The American Library Association (ALA), a group funded by George Soros, in fact instructed libraries to cover up incidents of sexual activity happening in libraries and to evade FOIA production by never writing anything down about anything bad that happens in a public library.
After we broke the story, former female library employees came forward to tell the public about how — when they complained about sexual activity and harassment happening in their work area — they were told by library management to either look the other way and ignore it or quit their jobs. The Orland Park Chief of Police, Timothy J. McCarthy, then engaged in roughly two years of abuse and harassment aimed at intimidating, harassing, and threatening us to try to scare us away so we would stop reporting on the sex crimes that had been allowed to fester in the library on his watch. For some reason, the government of Orland Park wanted to keep allowing child pornography to be accessed in that library and for men to continue to be allowed to use the library for sex. SOMEONE powerful in Orland Park WANTED this to keep happening and Police Chief McCarthy appears to have been tasked with threatening/frightening/harassing whistleblowers to keep Orland Park’s secrets hidden.
We document everything we uncovered in our investigation and everything that McCarthy and the Orland Park Police did to us in our book, SHUT UP! The Bizarre War that One Public Library Waged Against the First Amendment. One of the worst things that Orland Park did was to put library employee Bridget Bittman up to suing us in federal court with a SLAPP lawsuit. That was supposed to shut us up and scare us away. Her intent was to restrict our future speech and to make us never write about the library and its terrible employees again…so that Orland Park could continue to hide what had been allowed to keep happening there. That plan backfired because we not only prevailed when the SLAPP was dismissed but there’s now a 666-page book all about Timothy J. McCarthy, the Orland Park Police, the Orland Park Public Library, and Bridget Bittman’s SLAPP.
I hope that John Kraft and Kirk Allen, who run the Edgar County Watchdogs and their site Illinois Leaks, write their own book about the SLAPP that Carla Burkhart and Joshua Feagans (from the slimeball law firm Griffin Williams, LLP) filed against them…in what was very similar to the attempt by Bridget Bittman and Orland Park to silence Megan and me. At their heart, SLAPPs are shakedown efforts that should be viewed as a kind of extortion racket. Only disreputable attorneys file SLAPP suits because these attorneys know from the beginning that they will not prevail in the suit. The point of the litigation is not to win…but instead just to scare a reporter or community activist into ending whatever First Amendment protected activity that reporter/activist is engaged in. In our case, Megan and I uncovered years and years of wrongdoing at a public library that the Village of Orland Park wanted to keep hidden from the public; so, a public employee was encouraged to file a SLAPP against us in federal court to scare us away and make us agree to never write about those crimes again (if the lawsuit was dropped, of course). With the Edgar County Watchdogs, Burkhart and her sniveling attorney Feagans wanted Kraft and Allen to stop writing about the College of DuPage scandal, where the Watchdogs were instrumental in busting that public body for years and years of wasteful spending. The Watchdogs uncovered documents showing that Burkhart was awarded an architect’s contract for a large sum of money when Burkhart is not in fact an architect (and should have never signed an architect’s contract). Other questions were raised about the awarding of no-bid contracts that Burkhart appeared to benefit from, as well as Burkhart’s chummy relationship with disgraced College of DuPage officials who now appear to be under FBI investigation.
Burkhart went to the Griffin Williams firm the same way that someone would go to an ambulance chasing attorney with meritless medical claims against someone or another. SLAPPS are shakedowns. Feagans is one of the worst attorneys I have ever seen in my life. This is a grown man who maintained a Facebook page where he advertised his love of Thundercats (a line of hunky toys similar to He-Man in the 1980s, with muscular cat/human hybrids that fought evil in their underpants). If you review the filings in Burkhart’s SLAPP, you will see that Feagans’ work is poorly written, emotional, sarcastic, and unprofessional. In other words, exactly what you would expect from a grown man in his 30s who is still obsessed with Thundercats.
Yesterday (7/29/16), a three hour hearing was held in DuPage County court where Feagans’ nonsense was picked apart verbally by a judge who was none-too-pleased with his time being wasted by Thundercats-loving Feagans and SLAPP-happy Burkhart. The judge completely dismissed the SLAPP. He ripped this bogus lawsuit to shreds. From what I understand, Feagans cried like a small child after that happened. No doubt, he went home to his Thundercats collection in his room, told his wife he needed “Alone Time,” stripped down to his Underoos, and confided in Lion-O or Panthro or maybe even Mumm-Ra that life is just not fair and that he can’t ever win. Sword of Omens and Eye of Thundera, why is being a lawyer so tough and beyond the scope of my abilities?
Burkhart is pretty typical for a SLAPPer. She appears to have the money to burn on a lawsuit she knew she wouldn’t win, thinking that she could spend a few thousand to hire Feagans to essentially extort the Watchdogs. She just had to find a law firm dumb enough to sign her as a client on an un-winnable case. Perhaps she came across Feagans’ Facebook page, saw that he was a grown male attorney still really into children’s toys from the 1980s, and figured: BINGO! I’ve found my BOZO!
Feagans and the Griffin Williams firm then filed this bogus lawsuit for her…with the expectation that the Watchdogs would not be able to afford an attorney to fight it for them. The scary thing about SLAPPs is that they are wickedly effective when the target of the SLAPP does not have the means to hire attorneys for a defense and is too afraid to fight the suit him or herself pro se in court. What usually seems to happen is that someone is SLAPPed and then the shady attorney for the SLAPPer makes an offer that the SLAPP will go away and be withdrawn if only the target would agree to never talk about or write about the SLAPPer again. The SLAPPer’s slimeball attorney engages in extortion/shakedown here: if you don’t want to go to the trouble of defending yourself in court, then you must tear down everything you wrote about the SLAPPer and agree to restrict your future speech and never write about the SLAPPer or the bad things she did again. Otherwise, you will have to spend years and thousands of dollars fighting in court to make this bogus lawsuit go away.
See what they do here? If you catch something horrible happening with a public entity like the College of DuPage or Village of Orland Park and you expose it, to punish you someone connected in some way to that public entity will file a SLAPP against you. That SLAPP is never intended to survive a motion to dismiss or ever enter into discovery. These lawsuits never make it to summary judgment, let alone a jury. The purpose of the SLAPP is just to scare you, make you wish you never wrote about the public body or spoke out against it, and then you are supposed to beg the SLAPPer to make the lawsuit go away…with the promise that you will never get involved in local politics or participate in government activism in any way again. The SLAPP is designed to teach you a lesson, and that lesson is: do not mess with Democrats and what they are doing with taxpayer money because you will be sued if you get in the way of that gravy train.
The SLAPPers are usually people with money to burn or people who are in some way being funded by either the public entities themselves or a lobbying group that benefits from the public entities continuing to engage in wrongdoing. In our case with Bridget Bittman, she was not only the Comiskey heiress (with the resources of someone whose grandmother owned a major league sportsball team) but she also received funding from members of the American Library Association to pay for her SLAPP against us, since the ALA had a vested interest in seeing us silenced (as they never wanted anyone to ever hear about things that the ALA does to cover up sex crimes in public libraries). With the Edgar County Watchdogs, Carla Burkhart wanted to silence John Kraft and Kirk Allen because she (and likely others connected to the College of DuPage scandal) didn’t want the public asking questions about all of the no-bid contracts and other shady dealings that the Watchdogs were exposing.
The thinking seems to be that if a SLAPP is targeted at a reporter/activist that the SLAPP will be so scary that the investigations stop, people become too afraid to write about the wrongdoing, and the people who engaged in whatever terrible things were being written about get away with whatever they did wrong. I wish that SLAPPers would come forward and at some point be honest with the public about what goes through their minds. Do they run a cost/benefit analysis and come to the conclusion that investing a few thousand dollars to hire a clown like Joshua Feagans (Thundercats, HO!) on the chance that the SLAPP could work is worth that roll of the dice?
Did Carla Burkhart, like Bridget Bittman before her, really believe that filing a SLAPP would make reporters give up on a story of great public interest? It amazes me that an attorney like Feagans is allowed to keep practicing law. In a just world, a lawyer like him should lose his license for not advising Burkhart that her lawsuit was meritless and that filing it would only be wasting the court’s time because the First Amendment precludes silencing reporters who are reporting on wrongdoing that involved a public body. I do not understand why the State of Illinois allows Joshua Feagans to continue being an attorney when he and his firm Griffin Williams file SLAPP lawsuits that they know have no hope of succeeding. He and everyone at his firm who signed off on this should be disbarred.
In my opinion, there should be a One Strike and You Are Out rule when it comes to SLAPPs. Feagans should not be given a second chance. If you read any of his filings, you will see within the first paragraph that he is too immature to be practicing law alongside real grown-ups. And that’s even without looking into his Facebook love of Thundercats and other children’s toys.
As for Burkhart, she has 35 days to refile and start this whole process again. Efforts are underway at the federal level to create a national Anti-SLAPP law that would severely punish SLAPPers for abusing the court system and using it as a weapon in the way that Burkhart and Bittman did. I hope those efforts succeed. We cover Bittman’s SLAPP in exhausting detail in our book SHUT UP!, which I hope legislators read as yet another firsthand account of a SLAPP and its intended purpose of silencing criticism of public bodies and discouraging participation in government.
[Trailer for our book that deals with Bridget Bittman’s SLAPP, filed against us in October 2014. We prevailed in this meritless piece of lawfare, but SLAPPs typically succeed in silencing their targets. SLAPPs are a form of lawfare used by government employees to chill free speech and make people afraid of challenging bad government.]
You may not realize it, but we’re currently facing an epidemic of SLAPP lawfare in this country. A SLAPP is “strategic litigation against public participation,” a term coined by George Pring and Penelope Canan back in the 1990s in their book, SLAPPs: Getting Sued for Speaking Out. This remains the definitive reference on SLAPPs, though a lot has happened since the book was written.
If you are looking for a hobby and a new topic of interest, I suggest starting a binder or notebook and researching what’s happening with SLAPPs. They are an insidious way that the government chills First Amendment protected speech by using the legal system as a weapon against the public and investigative reporters. This is happening where you live, I guarantee…but of course your local media is not talking about it. Typically, people never hear about SLAPPs until either they or someone they know personally is hit with a SLAPP.
Megan Fox and I were SLAPPed back in 2014, when Bridget Bittman (the granddaughter of the woman who used to own the Chicago White Sox sportsball team) sued us in federal court in an effort to silence our First Amendment rights. Bittman at the time was the public spokesman for the Orland Park Public Library and was told to sue us during a board meeting by Diane Jennings, one of the library’s trustees (and also the most loathsome human being I have yet met on this planet). Megan and I had uncovered years and years of unreported crimes that occurred in the library, including: (a) library staff allowing a man to admit to accessing child pornography without police being called, (b) staff allowing men to masturbate in the library openly with their penises fully exposed without calling the police, (c) men stalking women in the stacks, (d) men sexually harassing female library employees but the library telling the women they should quit if they didn’t like it, (e) a man trapping a young woman in a study room while accosting her sexually, (f) young children being accosted sexually in the library, and other sex crimes that all warranted police intervention…but time and again the library staff CHOSE not to call the police when they should have. This was a clear pattern that Megan and I uncovered, where the Orland Park Public Library made a decision to NOT call the police because it seems clear they knew that if they had done so then the police would have come and made arrests…and that would have been bad publicity for the library.
Since Bittman was in charge of the library’s publicity as its spokesman, the library Board pushed her to hit us with a SLAPP to scare us away and silence us. Megan and I wrote about it in our book SHUT UP! The Bizarre War that One Public Library Waged Against the First Amendment (now available in paperback and as an eBook too). We prevailed in this SLAPP and our First Amendment rights were upheld, though Bittman’s lawsuit cost us more than two years’ of time to defeat and many hours of work defending ourselves which could have been spent writing, researching, and participating in other investigations into corrupt government.
So, by suing us, Bittman was able to strategically steal time and resources from us that prevented Megan and me from exposing other public bodies that were doing the same things that the Orland Park Public Library was doing…or even prevented us from finding more of what Orland Park was trying to desperately to hide. Bittman knew her lawsuit would never even make it into discovery and she never had any intention of winning (since she knew she never had any ground to stand on); the whole point of the lawsuit was to be a time-killing energy drain that would distract us, take up our time, and cost us precious resources to defend against.
Consumerist has started reporting on SLAPPs, which is great because I hope that more people out there realize that this is happening. In a recent article, Consumerist talked about SLAPPs and how they “leverage the legal system — and all its attendant costs and Byzantine paperwork — in an effort to chill free speech.” In our example with Comiskey heiress Bridget Bittman, Megan and I were forced to come up with a way to defend ourselves in a meritless lawsuit filed by a woman who not only had the remnants of the Comiskey fortune at her disposal but was also being funded by members of the American Library Association (who wanted Megan and me silenced because we were exposing the consequences of years and years of bad ALA policy). Having to mount a defense against even a meritless lawsuit is soul-killingly expensive because of how our system works and how a plaintiff with disreputable attorneys can manipulate the system to cause delay after delay. In Bittman’s case, almost every time there was some filing due, her attorneys (which were the sort of people who advertise on bus benches or in the local coupon paper that comes to your doorstep) would invent some new excuse for why they needed an extension. Sometimes they would do this the day that the filing was due. If everything they said happened to them was true every time they wanted to delay the process, that law firm should be the star of its own reality show: there were mysterious deaths, severe illnesses that would have made great episodes of House, M.D., claims they suddenly had to fly to London, a dog eating the important papers, etc. The strategy appeared to be one of delay, delay, delay…hoping that financially Bittman could outlast us and break us before the lawsuit would ever enter into discovery phase.
I spent hours reviewing everything that Bittman’s attorneys filed, as well as all of the documents that our own attorneys had to file in response. Many more hours were spent collecting documents to rebut Bittman, combing through emails for responsive documents, and assembling everything related to our investigation into the Orland Park Public Library so it could all be reviewed by attorneys. I probably put 200 hours of work, at least, into this sort of tedious-but-necessary document review in our defense against her SLAPP.
That’s 200 hours that I was then not able to spend writing, researching, going to board meetings, or otherwise working as an investigative reporter and citizen sleuth covering corrupt government in Illinois. So, Bittman’s SLAPP lawsuit created an obstacle to my work exposing government corruption, since the SLAPP took time and resources away from me that I would normally have used to investigate bad local government (such as the Orland Park Public Library Board).
SLAPP lawsuits typically end before discovery begins, which is what happened with Bittman’s suit. A federal judge dismissed more than half of the counts she filed against us and then Bittman withdrew the remainder of her lawsuit before any documents were ever exchanged in discovery. No depositions were ever taken and Bittman never had to produce any documents that would have been embarrassing to her or that would have proved she was dishonest in the various claims she made in her suit. The way our legal system is setup, someone like Bittman can file a SLAPP to silence your free speech, never intending to win the lawsuit, and drag it out strategically with delays and extensions…but still have the option of withdrawing it in the end (before she would be exposed in discovery for being dishonest). In Illinois at least, there is no mechanism to punish a plaintiff for bringing a SLAPP using this strategy. That’s why more and more people like Bittman are doing this around the country when they don’t like that someone is criticizing a public body or public employees.
In Illinois we have a weak anti-SLAPP law called the Citizen Participation Act (CPA), but it only is useful in very specific and limited cases in dismissing a SLAPP before the discovery phase. Courts have severely weakened the CPA and have limited its use to only the most rare of occasions. This means our state legislature needs to go back to the drawing board to strengthen it. The courts want to maintain a balance between allowing legitimate lawsuits to continue but ending these vexatious SLAPP suits…and courts in Illinois have felt that balance was not achieved with the CPA.
As Consumerist notes, California has the best anti-SLAPP law in the country that is most pro-defendant: it allows for an expedited hearing on the defendant’s motion to strike, and will award the defendant attorney fees and court costs if the defendant prevails. But remember that there is no federal anti-SLAPP legislation. That’s something that Free Speech activists are trying to remedy right now with Congress. Something that you could do to help would be to write, email, or call your Senators and Congressional representative and tell these people that you want them to support anti-SLAPP legislation at the federal level. Tell them about the book that Megan and I wrote about Bridget Bittman’s SLAPP and what she did to us to try to chill our First Amendment protected speech.
Congress is now considering the SPEAK FREE Act, which would be federal anti-SLAPP legislation. As it’s written now (before it will no doubt be monkeyed with in committees), if the SPEAK FREE Act had been in place back in 2014, Bridget Bittman’s SLAPP against us would have been tossed out much faster than it took for us to ultimately prevail against her. She sued us in October of 2014 and her lawsuit was not fully terminated until May of 2016. That was almost two years’ of time and energy drained by a lawsuit that never involved any discovery or depositions or anything. Because the federal court system works so slowly on its own…and Bittman’s attorneys aggressively pushed for one delay after another to keep things delayed even further…this SLAPP dragged on and on absent anything like the SPEAK FREE Act to eradicate it quickly.
SLAPP lawfare is used by public officials and public employees to tie community activists up in court so they no longer have the time, money, or energy to criticize public bodies. Big developers can also use SLAPPs to crush and silence community opposition to their projects. Large corporations like AMC can even use the threat of a SLAPP to silence people’s free speech rights (in a recent instance reported by Consumerist of the tee-vee network menacing a small website that used to post spoilers and fan theories about the show The Walking Dead…but the threats from AMC’s lawyers silenced and shuttered that spoiler site).
How you can help
1. Setup a Google alert for yourself for the key words SLAPP, ANTI-SLAPP, SPEAK FREE Act, etc. This way, you will be alerted every day if stories appear somewhere on this topic. And you can then start to see how prevalent this problem is.
2. Let people know about our book SHUT UP! and that it involves a SLAPP lawsuit filed against us by Bridget Bittman, granddaughter of Dorothy Comiskey Rigney, the woman who used to own the Chicago White Sox. Bittman’s lawsuit cost us time and resources to defend against and we worked hard to give other people facing SLAPPs lessons and tips for what they, too, can do to defend themselves against this type of vexatious lawfare.
3. Contact your Senators and your Congresscritter. Tell them that you oppose SLAPPs and that you want them to support the SPEAK FREE Act to stop people like Bridget Bittman from being able to file SLAPPs to silence people who take on corrupt local government.
4. Make studying SLAPPs into a new hobby. It’s more interesting than bird watching…and SLAPPs come in all shapes, sizes, and forms. The way to bring change to our government is to empower citizens to be able to fight for that change…and one of the main weapons the government is using against the people are these SLAPPs. Let’s take this away from them so that people will no longer be intimidated into silence or feel that they need to SHUT UP! if they don’t want to be sued by powerful or rich people who have more resources than they do.
[Above: Carla Burkhart and her attorney Joshua “Josh” Feagans filed a SLAPP (Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation) to punish her critics for rightfully reporting on her no-bid contracts with the College of DuPage, which were awarded to her as “architecture” contracts when admittedly Burkhart is not an architect. Though many news outlets reported on Burkhart’s corruption and misdeeds, she and Feagans elected only to target certain critics for SLAPP intimidation and retaliation.]
* A SLAPP is a “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation” designed to silence critics of a public official and chill people’s First Amendment Rights. It is essentially using a court and abusing the legal system as an intimidation tool against one’s targeted enemies.
* Criticism of public officials is part of Free Speech and vital to our democratic system of government; the Right to Petition government bodies includes the right to publicly criticize public officials for their wrongdoing. This is what separates the United States from monarchies and totalitarian dictatorships that forbid such criticism under penalty of law and threat of government reprisal.
* Carla Burkhart filed a SLAPP lawsuit against the Edgar County Watchdogs and other select critics in January 2016 to silence and punish those targeted for their First Amendment protected speech. Burkhart is represented in her SLAPP by attorney Joshua Feagans of the lackluster firm Griffin Williams. Feagans’ Facebook page boasts that he enjoys watching Thundercats cartoons on the tee-vee.
* This is a Thundercat, in case you don’t know or weren’t around in the 1980s (it is not normal for grown men in professional fields to advertise that they are still into Thundercats as they approach middle age):
I’m having a great time studying up on all the bizarre twists and turns in Carla Burkhart’s asinine SLAPP lawsuit against the Edgar County Watchdogs and other critics of Burkhart’s outrageous no-bid contracts with the College of DuPage. This is a great case to learn from because it’s such a blatant SLAPP. It is perfect material for Tea Party minded people to read and investigate because SLAPPs are one of the weapons that corrupt public officials (and their reprehensible Thundercats-loving attorneys) use to take away the public’s First Amendment rights and deprive Americans of our liberty. You can read more about SLAPPs here.
I introduced you to this particular Burkhart/Feagans SLAPP several days ago and have been reading various articles written by The Chicago Tribune and other publications on Burkhart and the various open state investigations into her conduct. The Caucus Blog, which follows goings-on in the Illinois statehouse, posted a terrific summary that you should read at least three times to let all the information sink in:
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[Warning: if you fall onto Carla Burkhart’s naughty list, she will SLAPP you!]
* Carla Burkhart is a corrupt public official who used her position on the College of DuPage Foundation Board to obtain a no-bid contract for considerable money.
* In January 2016, Burkhart filed a SLAPP lawsuit against critics of her no-bid contract.
* SLAPP stands for “Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation,” which is something public officials use as a weapon against critics to chill free speech and attempt to trample on the constitutionally protected First Amendment Right to Petition public bodies for redress of grievances.
As I reported yesterday, the Edgar County Watchdogs activist group has been sued for $8 million by College of DuPage Foundation Board Member Carla Burkhart. Today I want to walk through her lawsuit and point out how ridiculous it is, using some of what I learned reading a fantastic book on this type of punitive and vexatious litigation that was written by George W. Pring and Penelope Canan in the 1990s, SLAPPs: Getting Sue for Speaking Out.
If you could choose one topic to become interested in for the new year that would pay dividends and help you become more active in rooting out corruption in your own community, I recommend you study SLAPPs. Chances are, some public official like Burkhart is probably suing a watchdog group or reporter in your own area and I am sure the target of that SLAPP could use your help on the ground. This abuse of power and process is happening all across the country because there is no national anti-SLAPP law that would prevent such Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation.
The Pring/Canan book on SLAPPs is more than 20 years old at this point and I have not been able to find a newer work on the subject that’s remotely as good. Maybe someone reading this will write one. There’s a need for it, because we have entered into a new phase of SLAPPs that was not predicted by Pring/Canan.
Their book covered the first two waves of SLAPPs. The first will surprise you in that it took place just after the American Revolution, up until 1800 or so. At the very birth of our nation, local justices of the peace and other officials didn’t like the idea of Free Speech or the public’s ability to question and mock elected officials. This makes sense if you think about these people being in their 40s or 50s and having lived in the days before the Revolution; their brains were still hard-wired to England and aristocracy and being ruled by a King on a throne somewhere. They didn’t like when someone called them out on their bad behavior, so they would sue critics for defamation. Judges tossed these vexatious lawsuits out of court immediately, citing the First Amendment Right to Petition and the fact that criticizing a public official is not defamation (but is actually a treasured American right that sets our country apart from all others).
This is something that a lot of people, especially conservatives, have a hard time understanding. Defamation requires that a person know something is false and intend to cause harm while publishing it anyway, knowing that by telling a lie that harm will come to the target of the lie. The key words are: lie, intend, false, and harm. Reporting on something terrible that a public official actually did is not defamation. Criticizing a public official for bad behavior is not defamation. Mocking and ridiculing a public official is not defamation. Our nation’s first courts got it right over and over again in those early days and the First Wave of SLAPPs (as Pring/Canan identified them) lasted only a few years before elected officials realized they weren’t going to get anywhere with that tactic.
Jump ahead 170 years to the 1970s, when SLAPPs were rediscovered and used by mostly real estate developers as a weapon to silence critics of poorly conceived development projects. This was back in the days when greedy men in polyester suits with wide striped ties thought it was a great idea to build concrete public housing projects on scenic beachfront property…or plop state-run drug addiction clinics in the middle of a community full of young families…or local a slaughterhouse next to a cherished woodland park to befoul the area. Communities who opposed such developments found themselves at war with the developers, who would use every trick imaginable to get their way. These unscrupulous people started suing the outspoken activists who wanted to stop these ugly projects…in the hopes that the lawsuits would scare them into silence or otherwise tie them up or bankrupt them so they could no longer be obstacles to the construction. You can see how effective this would be in many cases: a well-funded corporate litigation team would file a SLAPP against a ragtag group of moms and dads who opposed the housing project or drug clinic or slaughterhouse or whatever. The community members were exercising their constitutional right to oppose the poorly planned construction projects…and because they spoke out against these developments, the developers sued these people for defamation. This went on for many years, through the 1970s and 1980s and into the 1990s, when Pring/Canan wrote their excellent book. It became an epidemic.
They called that the Second Wave of SLAPPs…which prompted many states to pass anti-SLAPP legislation that was meant to dismiss these kinds of lawsuits early in the litigation process, to both save the court’s time and also spare the targets of the SLAPPs the legal costs involved with defending themselves against such frivolous lawsuits.
I argue that so much time has passed since the Pring/Canan book that we are now in a Third Wave of SLAPPs. This time, the people who are filing these lawsuits are either spoiled prima donnas who don’t like being criticized (similar to the SLAPPers in the First Wave of SLAPPs back in the 1700s) or organizations who use proxies to file SLAPPs so that the organization can benefit in some way from the chill that the SLAPP puts over the community.
In the matter at hand, Carla Burkhart seems to be both a prima donna and also a proxy, possibly for the College of DuPage. She comes off as a spoiled and self-absorbed woman who does not like being criticized by the Edgar County Watchdogs…and at the same time it feels like she may have been egged on in this lawsuit by entities at the College of DuPage, who seem to be sick of John Kraft and Kirk Allen covering the years’ worth of ongoing wrongdoing at the College of DuPage. Burkhart’s goal is clearly to silence the Watchdogs, make them stop writing about her, and also scare anyone else out there who may be considering criticizing her or the College of DuPage (because Pring/Canan identified one big motivation of filing a SLAPP to be chilling speech in the community, since people will see that the Watchdogs have been sued and are suffering through litigation and so if they don’t want to be sued too they reason that they must keep their mouths shut about how they feel about Carla Burkhart and/or the College of DuPage).
[Kirk Allen (left) and John Kraft (right)…the best investigators of government corruption in the state of Illinois.]
Illinois is sometimes a hilarious state to live in, because if you show any interest at all in questioning how the government here spends money then you are called a “busybody.” I wonder if this is because so many people of Eastern European stock immigrated to the Chicago area…and that Soviet mentality became part of the Chicagoland culture that infected the rest of the state. I also think part of it is related to how much people love Al Capone here and how the airport gift shops have so many tee shirts with his face on it, as opposed to Abe Lincoln (who is supposed to be the mascot for the state…but people think Capone is more fun). Illinois is a very strange place where you are actually looked down upon if you “make trouble” by asking too many questions (or any questions at all). People have an attitude here of “shut up and mind your own business” and “don’t spoil this nice racket we’ve got going on.” Don’t rock the boat or make waves!
Kraft & Allen have pretty much single-handedly been using Freedom of Information Act requests to obtain documents that prove wrongdoing by all sorts of public officials. For some reason, reporters at the Chicago Tribune or Sun Times or wherever are never interested in doing this. Maybe they are but their editors won’t let them write anything negative about elected officials…or the editors think those stories would be boring because “nobody cares about the College of DuPage.” That is something that editors of publications say a lot, “nobody cares about the local level.” Remember that the newspapers are all failing and reporters now have to deliver papers door to door on Sundays…and everything is driven by clicks and hit counts and “what can go viral.” Investigative journalism is all but dead. Every paper still alive has become a shallow tabloid.
So, the only way any of this corruption gets exposed anymore is because people like Kraft & Allen have made it their hobby to do so. Instead of watching baseball or football or whatever or collecting stamps or making model airplanes (you can tell that I have no idea what straight guys do in their free time if they are not investigating government wrongdoing), they FOIA government entities for their meeting minutes and contracts and whatever and they look to make sure that everyone is obeying the law. When they find someone who has broken the law, they write about that person on Illinois Leaks. When a corrupt public official doesn’t like being written about, that person sues…and loses because that lawsuit is a SLAPP. Lather, rinse, repeat. This will keep happening as long as public officials think they can get away with filing these Third Wave SLAPPs. We as a country really do need a federal anti-SLAPP law to stop all this.
Carla Burkhart’s SLAPP can be read in its entirety here. My thoughts as I read through it as a student of SLAPPs are:
Page 1: Is Herricane Graphics even a real company? In her lawsuit, Burkhart claims that she runs a business called “Herricane Graphics.” I talked yesterday about what a stupid name that is, but today I looked it up on the Illinois Secretary of State’s website and it is a licensed business. So it technically exists on paper, but I couldn’t find a website for it. The only Yellow Page listing I found redirects to another company called “Schreiner Chicago” (that has a 1990s-looking generic website that says it sells writing instruments and measuring cups, or something). All of this is strange because wouldn’t a graphic design company — if it was legitimate — have a fancy website to showcase its graphic design work? How does Herricane Graphics land any clients if it doesn’t have an online portfolio, a Facebook page, an Instagram, a Twitter, etc.? Something is fishy here.
Page 2: If you have never been involved in a lawsuit, you might not realize that lawyers are allowed to write all kinds of crazy things in a complaint without having to prove anything. Remember that anyone who graduates from even the worst law school in the country and manages to pass the bar in Illinois is allowed to file a lawsuit for a client and sign his name to it…and if he is not embarrassed and doesn’t care about looking foolish later, he can write anything he wants in the complaint. Realistically, unless a judge would at some point mock him, a lawyer can say crazy things in a filing and trust that 99.9999% of people will never read it. Lawsuits are boring to read and reporters are lazy. The average person who has no reason to read a lawsuit won’t bother. Even people who have been sued might not read the lawsuit because they have an attorney to do that (and attorneys never make fun of one another because they all try to stay friendly and give one another slack for the showmanship of a ridiculous complaint). Sometimes bad lawyers put things in a complaint just hoping to get an exciting headline on the chance that a reporter would read it…never expecting anything in the complaint to stick. Almost all lawyers operate under the assumption that the lawsuit will be settled out of court because almost all lawsuits are settled out of court (even the frivolous ones). No lawyer wants to go before a jury because juries are so unpredictable.
So, I laugh when I read what’s written about Kraft & Allen in this complaint by Burkhart because I can’t believe the lawyer she found to represent her is such a ridiculous writer. Take this sentence (please!): “The publications on Illinois Leaks are not designed to educate or inform the public, but to manufacture public hysteria against whatever cause Allen and Kraft so choose.” This is laughable because if you read Illinois Leaks you will immediately see that every post they make is meticulously sourced…and almost all based on public documents they obtained from FOIA requests and then posted to their website. They often just present documents and then pose questions, leaving the readers to view the documents themselves and draw their own conclusions. The topics they cover do not lend themselves easily to causing “public hysteria.” I am one of the Watchdogs’ biggest fans and even I have trouble finding the College of DuPage scandal exciting, let alone hysteria-inducing. I find this poorly written lawsuit that has been filed against them to be hysterical, however.
I truly feel that Carla Burkhart is one of the biggest idiots around for doing this, because she has brought the Streisand Effect upon herself. If she did not like being exposed for what she did wrong at the College of DuPage (when not many people really care about the College of DuPage outside of DuPage County) then she is going to go full on BARBRA when people coast to coast who are interested in SLAPP filings start looking into this lawsuit. As you may know, the “Streisand Effect” is named after what happened when Barbra Streisand filed a big lawsuit for millions of dollars in damages against a coastal erosion research project that had posted a photo of the California coastline that included her Malibu mansion. Hardly anyone had heard of that obscure coastal study in 2003 until Streisand filed the lawsuit; after that, millions of millions of people saw the photo that she sued to prevent anyone from seeing. Her idiocy in suing the photographer and website blew up in her face. She is an idiom now. The “Burkhart Effect” could be next.
Page 3: Here, Burkhart’s complaint gets into some of what she’s all worked up about. She claims that her company Herricane Graphics is real and is not imaginary and that the College of DuPage contracted her to do some kind of signage in April 2012. Then, in July of 2012, some kind of change was made to the signage the College wanted and so she had to have a new contract. Burkhart claims that the new contract was written as an American Institute of Architects Contract and that the College wanted that sort of contract. This gets into the problem that Kraft & Allen reported on, because Burkhart is not an architect. Someone who is not an architect should not (and can not legally) sign an Architect’s contract. The next few pages go into a weird, rambling conspiracy that Burkhart claims involved various people plotting against her, with one woman named Kathy Hamilton in a mad drive for power.
Page 5: Burkhart finally gets around to talking about the Watchdogs again. Here, she tries to make it seem like it was no big deal that she signed that Architect’s contract (even though she is not an architect). What you might not know is that in Illinois an Architect’s contract is one of the few exceptions where a public body does not have to put a job up for a competitive bid and go through that whole process. What it looks like the College of DuPage did was that they just wanted to give this job to Burkhart (who became a Board Member after she landed this gig) so they used that Architect contract to get around the bidding requirement. They didn’t want to put the job up for competitive bids because they just wanted to give this money to Burkhart and if they put it up for a bid then there was a chance that someone would underbid her and she would not get as much money as she wanted. So they pulled a fast one and used the Architect contract to get around that requirement. Burkhart is mad that she got caught and is embarrassed that Kraft & Allen reported on the bad thing she did, so now she is suing them as punishment for them catching her signing this Architect contract and evading the bid process. Only in Illinois!
Page 7: This whole page is roll on the ground hilarious. Here, Burkhart claims she did not sign the contract as an Architect. But, the Watchdogs have the contract she signed. And on the last page of the contract, she signed it as the Architect. How can she pretend this didn’t happen? See for yourself! The College of DuPage also ultimately conducted an internal audit and found that Burkhart was indeed improperly given preferential treatment. Kraft & Allen found this in FOIA production too!
As you can clearly see, over and over again this document that Carla Burkhart signed identifies her as the “Architect” in the agreement. It is repeatedly stated that this is an agreement between the College of DuPage and an Architect. At the very end of the agreement, Carla Burkhart signs her name as the President of Herricane Graphics, which is identified in Article 13 in the SCOPE OF THE AGREEMENT as being the Architect named in the contract.
She seems to claim that none of this happened, when this contract was produced pursuant to FOIA requests and the fact she signed her name as the Architect has been reported in the Chicago Tribune and in other publications...because that’s what the contract says! At no time does this ninny ever seem to have said to the College of DuPage that she shouldn’t be signing an Architect’s contract when she isn’t an architect and knows she’s not an architect. By all accounts, she’s just a greedy clown in a santa hat who went along with this Architect contract thing because this was the scheme they came up with to avoid that competitive bidding process and show her preferential treatment.
Page 12: Burkhart finally gets into the counts of the lawsuit here. Pages 8 through 11 were more rambling conspiracy theories about Kathy Hamilton plotting world domination or something. Burkhart has a strange persecution complex. She also complained about various articles that the Edgar County Watchdogs wrote about her that were all true, but since they were unflattering to her she says they weren’t true. But, again, each article is supported by documents that the College of DuPage produced pursuant to FOIA requests. And every article has documentation either attached or linked. So, I don’t understand how the attorney representing Carla Burkhart could in good faith sign his name to this complaint and file it for her. This is a guy who should really be facing Rule 11 sanctions for this. A lawyer who knowingly files a bogus SLAPP like this does not deserve to keep practicing law. He went to law school and should know better and should have told his client that she is out of her cotton picking mind and can’t sue people because she did something wrong and is now mad that people are writing about it. Take a public position on a Board (and enrich yourself) and expect public criticism.
Page 13: Burkhart alleges defamation, but again: if something is true it is not defamation and everything written about this woman is based on documents that the College of DuPage produced, such as the Architect’s contract she signed (when she is not an architect). Also, she claims that the articles that the Watchdogs wrote damaged her business and kept her from getting opportunities. But, her business doesn’t even have a website. Apparently, the address she lists for her business is an abandoned storefront with no signage in a deserted strip mall in the middle of nowhere. The telephone number listed for Herricane Graphics just rang and rang and didn’t even go to voicemail when I tried calling it to check if it was a real business. How is she getting clients if she has no web or social media presence, her supposed office is what looks like an abandoned storefront, and her phone number just rings and rings with no answer? Maybe if she is not getting clients her business is being hurt because she has not done any of the basic Business-101 things you need to do to actually have a business that attracts clients.
Page 14: More craziness on this page about various people trying to propel that Kathy Hamilton woman to power. This to me reads like someone who thinks her cat or dog is plotting against her and the toaster is preparing to lead a kitchen appliance uprising at dawn. Burkhart thinks she is owed at least a million dollars just for this!
Page 17: Here’s a few pages about tortious interference with a contract. This is rich. So, Burkhart seems to be mad that John Kraft and Kirk Allen used a FOIA request to obtain that Architect’s contract that Burkhart signed (but should have never signed because she is not an architect). Once it was exposed that the College of DuPage and Burkhart were using an AIA Architect contract they should not have been using and the College began an investigation into the impropriety, Burkhart alleges she was damaged because the College stopped paying her. Think about that for a minute. Burkhart actually has the gaul to sue the people who busted her for being involved in this no bid contract scheme because once she was busted she stopped being able to profit from the scheme. Again…only in Illinois!
Page 19: This is the best one….Burkhart sues the Watchdogs for “misappropriation,” claiming she was damaged because they illustrated their articles about her with photos that Burkhart had posted online (and she says they used the photos without her permission!). Again, it’s shocking that a lawyer actually wrote this complaint and filed it. Burkhart is a public official who is involved in a newsworthy scandal; she is not able to control who posts photos of her. The Watchdogs’ use of a photo of her is clearly covered by Fair Use. It is absurd that she would try to make this desperate claim for “misappropriation” (but she doesn’t say anything about asserting a copyright over the photo). The whole issue of Fair Use, copyright, and “misappropriation” is an interesting one that we can explore another day, because much like defamation this is something that people don’t really typically know a lot about and the push right now with the Social Justice Warrior and crybully crowds is for people to claim you need their permission to post something. That’s not true at all. Free speech can’t be curtailed just because a spoiled prima donna does not like being mocked for her bad behavior…and a picture of a public official accompanying an article about that public official’s bad behavior is fair game. This is not Saudi Arabia.
Page 20: Conspiracy! Everyone is plotting against her! My goodness. The author of this paranoid nonsense was someone named “Joshua M. Feagans” from the firm Griffin Williams LLP. He actually signed his name to this foolishness and filed it with the court. That is astonishing to me.
What I hope happens here is that the Watchdogs very aggressively fight this lawsuit and invoke our state’s Citizen Protection Act, which would ultimately make Carla Burkhart pay all of their legal fees that resulted from this SLAPP. I wish that Joshua M. Feagans, whoever he is, would have to face a Rule 11 sanction as well, but I won’t hold my breath for that in Illinois. It’s apparently very rare for an attorney to be punished for filing bogus lawsuits…though I do think the anti-SLAPP measures have some consequences for the plaintiff’s attorneys. It will be interesting to look into that.
Cases like this can drag on for years and this SLAPP was only filed on January 1st, 2016…so it’s only just begun. The timing is great for studying it as a Third Wave SLAPP though, in Pring/Canan fashion, because we can watch the case progress in real time.
I cannot wait to read the response that Kraft & Allen will file and also read their Motion to Dismiss, which should come in the next few months if Burkhart does not withdraw this SLAPP before then.
[Carla Burkhart, the SLAPPer, who also sits on the College of DuPage Foundation Board.]
* A SLAPP is a lawsuit filed as “Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation.”
* SLAPP lawsuits are intended to chill First Amendment protected Free Speech.
* A person filing a SLAPP lawsuit is called a “SLAPPER;” the target of a SLAPP is called “The Target.”
* The Edgar County Watchdogs are the leading government abuse watchdog group in the state of Illinois, having gained fame over the years for exposing corruption at the state and county level and for performing citizens’ arrests on government boards that violate Illinois’ Open Meetings Act.
* The SLAPP filed by Burkhart against the Watchdogs can be found here.
An interesting SLAPP lawsuit has been filed against the Edgar County Watchdogs in DuPage County, Illinois. The SLAPPER is a woman by the name of Carla Burkhart, who claims to run a business called “Herricane Graphics.” That’s right: she spells “Hurricane” with an “e” instead of a “u” because she apparently thinks that’s clever in a “feminist” way…when ironically enough “HERR” in German is the word for MISTER (and “Mister iCane” sounds like it could be an Apple-sponsored Batman villain, probably with a club foot or at least a limp). But, I digress.
The Edgar County Watchdogs are John Kraft and Kirk Allen, who happen to be two of the most interesting people I’ve ever met in Illinois politics. They run the website Illinois Leaks, which is a fascinating and informative read. For the last several years, one of their big projects has been exposing corruption at the College of DuPage. Their efforts have involved numerous Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests that uncovered wrongdoing committed by the College of DuPage Board (CoDB), mostly centered around contracts that were used by corrupt Board Members to move money into the hands of cronies or evade various legal requirements meant to keep this Board in check.
The CoDB frequently violates our state’s Open Meetings Act (OMA) as well and has often made important decisions behind closed doors and in secret when they were required to conduct such public business in open meetings. When a public entity tries to circumvent the OMA by conducting its business behind closed doors in secret instead of out in the open, the Attorney General of Illinois has the power to void whatever actions the public body took that were not performed in accordance with the OMA.
So, when Kraft & Allen prove OMA violations, there are big consequences for the College of DuPage, since whatever actions the board members took that were outside the parameters set by the OMA must be voided…and that means contracts the Board signed go POOF! and any monies moved around must be returned as if the Board’s actions never happened. An OMA violation is a big deal…but it takes members of the public scrutinizing board members’ actions to expose such violations and then petition the Attorney General to remedy the situation.
This is mind-numbingly boring to 99% of the people in our country (which is why our country is in the mess that it’s in). Filing FOIA requests and attending board meetings and poring over contracts to ensure the letter of the law is being followed might seem like punishment to regular people. Or, they would probably assume there is someone on the government payroll that is supposed to be doing this, so why should they volunteer to take up such tedious work? Again…this is why Illinois is in the mess that it’s in and has been that way for decades. Because FOIA requests and board oversight is boring the majority of the public can’t be bothered to even feign interest in this stuff.
But, if you are a fan of John Grisham novels, these FOIA battles with public bodies can get incredibly exciting here in Illinois…especially when a SLAPP is involved. Here in Illinois, when corrupt public officials get called out for their wrongdoing, they lash out and attack…because that’s just what the government does in Illinois. A SLAPP lawsuit is a particularly crafty and aggressive way of scaring away critics and chilling criticism since, as you can imagine, no one enjoys being sued. Public officials count on that and support one another when a SLAPP is filed, since hearing that a government watchdog has been sued for investigating or speaking out means that regular people will likely be afraid of getting involved in something like that themselves (since they don’t want to be sued).
You might not realize this (because even law schools don’t teach it), but the First Amendment has built into it something called the Right to Petition. This involves our constitutional right as Americans to petition our government for change and redress of grievances. How you can “petition” the government is vague and nebulous; it includes all manner of political activity and free speech.
Carla Burkhart is a member of the College of DuPage Foundation Board. The Edgar County Watchdogs caught Burkhart signing an Architect’s contract with the College of DuPage on behalf of her company, “Herricane Graphics,” for a large sum of money. The problem is that Burkhart is not a licensed architect. She was not legally allowed to sign an Architect’s contract. This is not a mere formality, as an Architect’s contract is a special contract that is exempt from the required bidding process for other kinds of services. So, in order to give Burkhart a sweetheart deal no-bid contract, the College of DuPage fraudulently had her sign an Architect’s contract with them to exempt her from the bidding process. This is classic Illinois corruption. Since Burkhart knew she was not an architect at the time she signed an Architect’s contract, there’s no way she didn’t know that what she was doing was wrong and illegal.
Kraft & Allen exposed this on Illinois Leaks here.
Burkhart is essentially suing the Watchdogs for more than $8 million because they reported on the bad things that Burkhart and the College of DuPage had been doing. She also sued them for using a picture of her that she posted online when they wrote about her wrongdoing.
This is the very definition of a SLAPP suit.
Illinois is one of a handful of states that actually have an anti-SLAPP law on the books. This is called the Citizen Protection Act (CPA). This means that the Watchdogs will be able to use the CPA as a defense against Burkhart’s SLAPP. In Illinois, a SLAPPer is on the hook for the legal costs incurred by the Targets of her SLAPP. Legal fees in cases like this could end up being in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The Watchdogs also have the opportunity to countersue Burkhart for any damages they suffer as a result of her actions. In many cases, SLAPPers end up destroying their lives by filing meritless litigation like this in attempts to silence their critics.
Why do they do this?
I think it says a lot about the culture of corruption in Illinois. It takes a lot of gaul for a public official to walk into a lawyer’s office and indignantly say, “How dare they write about the terrible things I did! I want to sue them for millions!” I am amazed whenever lawyers take cases like Burkhart’s, but in Illinois the expectation is that when you sue someone — for whatever reason — that person will just settle to make it go away. So there are disreputable attorneys out there in shabby little offices who will take any case (just like in a John Grisham novel). They eke out their livings by filing things like SLAPPs, with the expectation that they can basically extort money out of someone to make the lawsuit go away. It’s basically a shakedown.
I think SLAPPers feel they can get away with this because a lot of media entities will just settle these things for “go-away” money. But, when a SLAPP targets a grassroots group like the Watchdogs, things get really interesting. Kraft & Allen no doubt will want their day in court. I highly doubt they will just settle this meritless suit without a big fight. If anyone in this state is willing to go toe to toe with a SLAPPer and invoke every provision of the Citizen Protection Act to hold someone like Burkhart accountable for filing a SLAPP, it is John Kraft and Kirk Allen.
I hope this is a SLAPP case that gains national attention. It really deserves to be observed and studied. It is unconscionable for Carla Burkhart to file a multi-million dollar lawsuit against people who called her out on signing an Architect’s contract when she is admittedly not an architect and for using a photo of her in news articles (which was covered by fair use). This kind of obvious SLAPP must not be tolerated. This is not Saudi Arabia and Carla Burkhart is not a sheik’s daughter.
It is worth watching this case for nothing else than the education it provides on government’s efforts to chill our shared First Amendment rights. Our liberty depends on the Silent Majority waking up to the realities of what SLAPPs can do to our communities.