Harrison Settles with NWH Letter Writer He Sued

Sandi Tenglin, an 81-year old widow, wrote a letter to the editor of the Northwest Herald which raised the hackles of then Democratic Party State’s Attorney candidate Jim Harrison.

Today the case was settled with the case being dismissed and Harrison paying $4,000 in attorney’s fees.

(Harrison has since dropped out of the race to tend to his seriously ill mother.)

He sued her.

Two attorneys rose to her defense:

  • Philip A. Prossnitz
  • Robert T. Hanlon

Prossnitz crafted a 15-page defense.

Here’s how he summarized Harrison’s complaint:

In his defamation lawsuit Plaintiff claims, inter alia, that one sentence by Defendant in a Letter to the Editor section of the Northwest Herald “constitutes defamation per se because it implies that Plaintiff committed the felonious criminal act of ‘bribery’ of a public officer.” (Plaintiff’s Complaint, para.16)(Emphasis ours).

That one sentence reads:

“My recollection is that Mr. Harrison, after donating a large sum of money to Gary Pack’s campaign, was hired to do labor law on behalf of the county.”

Prossnitz argues that the ‘innocent construction” rule should apply:

Even assuming arguendo that the statements in the letter are false, donating a large sum of money to a political campaign is not illegal and being hired to do labor law on behalf of a county is not illegal.

For that matter, receiving a political favor from a friend is not illegal.

Applying the innocent  construction rule to this cause, the Plaintiff’s Complaint at Law should be dismissed.

Later the attorney points out that Tenglin’s letter “does not fairly impute the commission of a crime.”

Therefore, the suit should be dismissed.

One of the suits quoted was from a candidate for the Illinois Supreme Court in Southern Illinois.

One of the findings at the appellate level follows:

“When a person runs for public office, he puts his character in issue so far as it relates to his fitness and qualifications for office; therefore, his conduct and actions are fair game for comment.”

Prossnitz argued,

Defendant Tenglin has made two statements which are statements of lawful, permissible conduct.

Even if the statements were false, they do not defame Plaintiff Harrison.

Prossnitz then moves on to whether his client had actual malice.

Plaintiff Harrison has failed to allege with specificity his allegations of actual malice or falsity or reckless disregard of truth or falsity. The constitutional freedoms of press and speech preclude a public official from recovering damages for defamation unless it can be proven that the statement was made with “actual malice.”

Prossnitz says Harrison’s pleading is deficient with regard to showing actual malice.

Finally he says Harrison “has failed to allege any damages with specificity.”

One case quoted ruled, “Allegations of damage to the reputation, emotional distress, and economic loss are insufficient to state a cause of action.”

The second attorney, Robert Hanlon took a different tact.

He said that the suit lacked merit because it was part of the political process.

There is a law called the Citizen Participation Act.

It was enacted to stop developers from suing neighbors who objected to zoning proposals.

The developers would try to intimidate neighboring land owners by suing them

As anyone who has ever been sued knows, lawyers cost money.

This act provides a defense for citizens who are exercising their First Amendment Rights.

Hanlon characterizes Harrison’s suit as a “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (S.L.A.P.P).”

He argues, “For Plaintiff to actually plead that there is no other innocent construction of the statement other than an allegation of bribery, he would implicitly admit that he actually did engage in bribery because the two separate facts are undeniably true.”

Hanlon calls it “the ‘Catch 22’ of Plaintiffs own malice hubris and arrogance directed at a little old lady.”

He points out,

“based upon the Plaintiff’s own complaint, the Plaintiff has admitted that the complaint is about matters that relate to the petitioning of Government…

“There can be no clearer petitioning of government as that term is used in the CPA than in an appeal to voters to vote against a candidate, especially one that seeks to suppress commentary about him.”

Unlike the other lawyer’s pleading, Hanlon’s asks for attorney’s fees and costs, which the act allows.

= = = = =
Reviewing Hanlon’s arguments reminds me that State Rep. Jack Franks sponsored the Citizen Participation Act. It may be his most significant legislative accomplishment.

If I remember correctly, it was stimulated by a suit from a Richmond developer against citizens opposing the development.


Comments

Harrison Settles with NWH Letter Writer He Sued — 27 Comments

  1. Go figure…and he wanted to be State’s Attorney, can’t even win his own cases….watch out Marlene

  2. An 81 one year old widow being sued by a big bully like Harrison is ridiculous.

    I’m happy Harrison had to pay the money.

    She should counter sue that pig.

  3. The Citizens Participation Act was in the 95th General Assembly.

    It was Public Act 95-0506 (PA 95-506), signed August 28, 2007, and was Senate Bill 1434 (SB 1434).

    http://www.ilga.gov > Public Acts > Public Acts/Leg. From Previous General Assemblies > 95 (2007 – 2008) > Go > Public Acts Listing > Public Acts 095-0501 Thru 095-0600 > Public Act 095-0506 SB 1434 Citizen Participation.

    The Sponsors of the bill are found under “Bill Status” on that page.

    Senate Sponsor: John Cullerton.

    House Sponsors: Jack D Franks, Sara Feigenholts, Rosemary Mulligan, Greg Harris, Linda Chapa LaVia, Jim Sacia, and William B Black.

    Synopsis as Introduced:

    Creates the Citizen Participation Act.

    Applies to motions in cases concerning SLAPP lawsuits (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) that have been filed to discourage citizen participation in government.

    Requires courts to decide those motions within 90 days.

    Provides that discovery is suspended pending a decision on the motion.

    Allows discovery on certain issues upon leave of court.

    Requires that the motion be granted and the claim dismissed unless the responding party produces clear and convincing evidence that the moving parties’ acts are not immunized under this Act.

    Provides for attorney’s fees and costs to be awarded to the prevailing moving party.

    Senate Floor Amendment No. 1

    Further amends the Citizen Participation Act.

    Provides that the threat of SLAPPs (instead of SLAPPs, personal liability, and burdensome litigation costs) significantly chills and diminishes participation in government, voluntary public service, and the exercise of these important constitutional rights.

  4. Let me get this straight – Harrison sued the little old lady and her lawyers made Harrison pay her attorney fees!

  5. Mark

    What does the Citizen Participation Act say about attorney fees and is that why Harrison paid the defendant to dismiss his own case?

  6. “It is in the public interest and it is the purpose of this Act to strike a balance between the rights of persons to file lawsuits for injury and the constitutional rights of persons to petition, speak freely, associate freely, and otherwise participate in government;

    to protect and encourage public participation in government to the maximum extent permitted by law;

    to establish an efficient process for identification and adjudication of SLAPPs;

    and to provide for attorney’s fees and costs to prevailing movants.”

    ++++

    “Section 25.

    Attorney’s fees and costs.

    The court shall award a moving party who prevails in a motion under this Act reasonable attorney’s fees and costs incurred in conjunction with the motion.”

  7. Mark, I am continually impressed with the excellent research that you do.

    Thank you.

  8. I am also impressed by several people

    That post GREAT INFO on the blog.

    Mark & Steve, both of you are awesome ! 🙂

  9. Hey, Prossnitz won a case!

    Pretty unusual ….. that must mean Harrison is really a total nincompoop!

  10. Harrison is awful, and I’m glad that he had to pay legal fees.

    One, you’re a person running for public office.

    If you can’t handle a simple LTE, than you’re probably not ready to run for public office, Two, the LTE wasn’t anywhere close to defamation.

    Hopefully we don’t see anything from Harrison again.

  11. So basically Harrison saw Prossnitz and Hanlon, lost bladder control, (figuratively Jim don’t sue me)

    Maybe had a bowl movement (likely in real life- even Harrison can’t keep ahold of all of his own crap) then quickly dropped some coin to clean up his mess!

  12. I thank Phil Prossnitz and Ron Hanlon for handling the case for me.

    They did a great job .I was so upset over this and they told me over and over again they would take care of it.

    I never expected to be sued over telling the truth and a letter to editor.

    I highly recommend both of them.

  13. Kudos for getting through all
    That, Sandi ! 🙂

    Alot of intense comments get
    Posted on this blog & knowing
    Harrison didn’t get away with
    His frivolous bullying suit helps
    Alot of people sleep better this
    Election year.

    Feel bad that you had to be the person
    This happened to.

  14. I agree with Watchdog 2 Sandi, Harrison is part of the ugly Nygren, Pack, and Zinke group.

    Thank you and those that took a stand for you.

  15. IIRC, Prossnitz ran against Pack in a primary and was very critical of Pack sending so much county business to Harrison that could have been taken care of in house.

  16. The Court Calendar indicates this case is scheduled for a hearing on Tuesday, August 16.

    It is disappointing to read that Judge Meyer allowed the $4,000 that Attorney Rob Hanlon asked for.

    When I read Ms. Tenglin’s sentence, it certainly appears to me that she was intimating something illegal had occurred.

    I recall attending an Election Board contest when Perry Moy was running against Jack Franks.

    The question was raised about Moy’s residence at the time he filed.

    The Board found no violation.

    Moy’s attorney, Mark Gummerson, asked the Board to assess his legal fees against the Petitioner.

    The sharp attorney out of Chicago for the Petitioner told the Board that awarding the fees would have a “chilling effect” on any future similar action.

    Fees were not awarded.

    That “chilling effect” is clearly seen here.

  17. Gus – You clearly have a mixed understanding on the legal concepts at issue in the case.

    There is a significant difference between mandatory attorney fees under the Citizen Participation Act and a motion brought before an election board.

    There is also a difference between a settlement and the court imposing a sanction.

    In this case, the court did not sanction Mr Harrison.

    Rather, Mr Harrison evaluated his position and made a decision to settle.

    That’s it.

    The matter is up Tuesday before Judge Meyer on Mr Harrison’s unopposed motion to voluntarily dismiss the action which requires a court order to facilitate the settlement terms.

    I agreed to the dismissal under the terms of the settlement. Neither party is asking judge Meyer to approve a settlement.

    Under the Citizen Participation Act attorney fees are mandatory if the court agreed with the Defendant on the allegedly defamatory statement.

    I would encourage you to review all of the respective pleadings before you take another specious

    As to Mr Willis’ comment, thank you.

  18. McHenry County Court Case Lookup (Public Case Access)

    22nd Judicial Court (McHenry County)

    Case ID 16LA000176

    Case Type – Law > $50,000

    Filing Type – Money Damages Over $50,000

    Filing Date – May 18, 2016

  19. James Harrison is current General Counsel of the Democrat Party of McHenry County.

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