On Tuesday, the judge in the case handed down her ruling [PDF], and we (most especially my co-worker, Eric Scheidler) took it on the chin.
My co-worker, Matt Yonke, sums up the ruling here.
Here's the press release we issued:
Kane County, Ill., Court Grants Planned Parenthood License to Lie
Pro-Life Group Files Amended Complaint
GENEVA, Ill., Sept. 3 /Christian Newswire/ -- A Kane County, Ill., circuit court's decision yesterday to dismiss a libelous ad and letter in a lawsuit filed against Planned Parenthood of Illinois and Director Steve Trombley could have far-reaching consequences for free speech rights throughout the state.
"Planned Parenthood has been granted a license to lie," said Eric Scheidler, communications director for the Pro-Life Action League and one of the Aurora, Ill., residents who brought the libel suit. "This ruling gives Planned Parenthood, and any other organization with deep pockets, total immunity for making false, defamatory statements against private citizens."
Aurora residents who had been protesting the opening of a Planned Parenthood abortion facility in their city filed the suit on October 1, 2007, saying a letter from Steve Trombley to the Aurora City Council and a full-page Planned Parenthood ad in The Beacon News that accused them of violence was maliciously false and libelous. In response, Planned Parenthood filed a motion to dismiss the suit based on Illinois' newly enacted Citizen Participation Act.
The Citizen Participation Act was established in 2007 to protect small grassroots organizations lobbying for government action against large corporations who want to scare them into silence with the threat of a frivolous and costly lawsuit. In this case, it is the multi-million-dollar company, Planned Parenthood, that claims it is being intimidated by the small group of Aurorans. Because the ad it ran against pro-lifers contained a line urging readers to call their local alderman in support of the new clinic, Judge Judith Brawka interpreted it and the letter to City Council as being protected under the Citizen Participation Act.
"The judge didn't decide Steve Trombley is innocent of libeling us, but that it didn't matter even if he were guilty," said Scheidler.
Brawka did allow Scheidler to file an amended complaint based on four other items in which Planned Parenthood made defamatory statements about his group. It is possible that these new items, including an open letter in The Daily Herald, may not fall under the protection of the Act as interpreted in yesterday's ruling because they didn't include the line urging readers to contact their alderman.
Scheidler also is planning to appeal the ruling if necessary.
"Illinois lawmakers drafted the Citizen Participation Act to protect people's freedom to speak their minds, not to keep citizens from defending their good names," said Scheidler. "If this ruling stands, anyone can spread deliberate, malicious lies about another person, as long as their statements can be construed as seeking action from any unit of government, including voters. That should scare all Illinoisans who care about honesty and accountability."
Scheidler could be forced to pay all of Planned Parenthood's legal costs associated with the libel suit, which he estimates could be more than $50,000. That would mean bankruptcy for him and his family, but he says that's a price he's willing to pay.
"No matter what lies Steve Trombley and Planned Parenthood may tell about us, pro-lifers in Aurora are peacefully saving babies from abortion at Planned Parenthood every week," he said.
A status hearing on the four additional counts of libel and slander will take place October 1.