Coming to us from Disclosure:
By Jack Howser
Published: February 25, 2012
EDGAR CO.—One of the latest attempts at issuing threats to shut down Disclosure comes from one of the latest counties we’ve come to cover.
It’s a phenomenon we’ve seen repeatedly over the past nine years of publication (we’re getting ready to go into our tenth year, beginning in March!): Almost immediately upon beginning coverage in a new county, some stupid public official takes offense at his or her name being mentioned repeatedly, especially in conjunction with some questionable activity, and they run screaming to a supposedly high-end legal firm who issues a letter threatening to bring a lawsuit against the publication for publishing false information about that public official (PO).
There are two problems with this, however.
The first is, we don’t publish false information. Ever. We wouldn’t produce material stating something as fact if we didn’t have either the documents or the word of another public official to back it up. If we publish something that’s word-of-mouth, such as a rumor about an alleged videotape of a public official having sex with an underage person (we’re referencing an actual case from 2004), we SAY it’s rumor only. And we can do that. Because the second problem POs face is that according to established case law, we’re not required to keep rumors and innuendo out of our pages when it comes to them. Why? Because it’s been long established that news organizations are allowed to publish information that’s critical of our public officials, even if it’s just rumor or allegations or even opinion….and let me make this very, very clear: the definition of a “public official” in this instance is A PERSON WHO DERIVES HIS OR HER INCOME FROM THE TAXPAYERS IN WHOLE OR IN PART. Ergo, a sheriff’s deputy is a public official. A public defender is a public official. A retired U.S. postal employee living off a pension is a public official. A correctional officer at any one of Illinois’ police state gulags (prisons) is a public official. Are we getting the message across here? For purposes of the definition, even a farmer who takes subsidies in order to run his business is a public official. So if you don’t like us talking about you, your safest and best bet is to get off the teat.
But with some people, that just ain’t gonna happen. And so we have the stubborn, the arrogant, the people who believe that their positions of power protect them. And they think they can throw their weight around and intimidate a news publication into not writing about them, cold hard fact or rumor, either one.
Enter Dee Burgin.
Burgin, originally of Richland County and reportedly the ex-brother-in-law of RC chief deputy Dennis Hout, is not only a sheriff’s deputy in Edgar County, but is the Emergency Telephone Systems Board (or E911 system) chairman. He’s been on the public teat in some form or fashion for most of his adult life, and most of it in Edgar County, although our research is indicating that he had worked in some capacity with Richland County’s ambulance service at some point prior. He also was or is the owner/operator of an ambulance service in Edgar County…we personally don’t know much about that, our Edgar County correspondents, Watchdogs Kirk Allen and John Kraft, are the ones who produce the material about that whole debacle.
Recently, the Watchdogs have uncovered an incredible amount of misappropriation and questionable use of funds, emanating from the E911 board and entity…something that is literally endemic in this state and probably others, as hundreds of thousands of dollars come into this system annually, even in the smallest of counties, and there’s just too much temptation to dip into those funds (ref. Colby Rigg). They’ve been chronicling these apparent abuses for months on their own website. But apparently this past article really got under Deeboy’s skin.
So Dee took action by God. He called Kirk Allen and griped at him, chewing him a new one and threatening him with a lawsuit. Kirk, knowing he’s only been publishing what he could get his hands on via FOIA and other resources, griped back….and caught Dee in another alleged line of bullshit. This resulted in another round of FOIAs…and more discoveries of possible misappropriations of funds.
Backed into a corner, Deeboy called out the big guns: he went to big bad Katz Friedman, in CHICAGO, where, as anyone knows, all the cool lawyers are. And he had them issue a “cease and desist” letter…one of those whiny ineffective things that blithely ignorant POs think are somehow going to save their asses. Here’s the first part of the letter, and here’s the second, that we received.
I called Ron Schwartz of K-F the day the letters came in and asked him a couple of questions, such as if he knew how to get to Richland County (he said he could use a map) and if he’d collected any pay up front from Deeboy (he wanted to know why; I told him I just didn’t want him to get stiffed). I also asked him if he knew what a public official was, and what the real definition of “defamation” under the law was….as well as if he had ever heard of the First Amendment. Schwartz, in his snotty Chicago-lawyer voice, told me that there were standards according to a New York case, but I abruptly stopped him there (knowing he was referring to Sullivan v. New York Times, which actually supports what WE do, not the ignorant public officials) and advised him that we’re not in New York and he needed to save his drivel for someone who cared. Reiterating the “get your money up front” thing, I hung up on him.
Kirk Allen was a little less harsh, which, by comparison to how I treat bottom-feeders (attorneys), doesn’t take much.
According to Kirk, there were 12 false statements in Schwartz’ letter alone. Apparently, Burgin lied to HIS OWN ATTORNEYS (hence the reason why I advised ol Ron to get his money up front) about several things. So Kirk fired this letter off to these slugs the next day:
February 21, 2012
I am in receipt of your letter and am requesting the following.
- Detailed list of false claims you assert I have made in regards to your client, Dee Burgin.
- Documentation to support that they are in fact false.
Upon receiving your supporting documentation regarding your claims I will be happy to publish a complete clarification story if you can provide evidence that counters the information I already have in hand, just as I assured your client during his recent phone call to me. My request for information and documentation that would disprove what I have reported was verbally refused by your client.
Please realize my efforts to investigate matters in this county are done so in the path of investigative journalism that pertains to public officials. I will not cease and desist from that effort.
Also, as I’m sure you are aware, if you wish to file a defamation lawsuit please know that I will fully exercise my subpoena power and request ALL financial records, both personal and business related to Mr. and Mrs. Burgin as I am confident with the information I have in hand, the additional information from such a subpoena will only strengthen my evidence.
I would encourage you to review copies of all the records before any further false accusations are made on your part as its clear from your letter your client is not being honest with you and I welcome the chance to prove that in a court of law if that is the path you wish to take.
If you have any questions please feel free to send them my way anytime.
Edgar County Watchdogs
PO Box 593
Kansas, IL 61933
CC: John Kraft – Edgar County Watchdogs
Jack Howser – Disclosure News
Mark Isaf – Edgar County States Attorney
And he also delivered one to Burgin, but only after he attempted to get Burgin to comment, and Burgin snidely retorted; ”My attorney has advised me to have no communications with the people listed in my civil law suit” (another lie, as there IS no “civil law suit,” but what the hell, right? He’s gotten some mileage with the line, might as well stick with it). Kirk told him:
We are in fact doing another story regarding several things in this county of which it does include your involvement.
As I told you during your call to me on February 9th, I will publish any and all information supporting the truth. To date you have refused to provide one shred of evidence that is contrary to our findings.
I also intend on reporting on your claim that you know firsthand that former treasure Linda Lane broke the law and your claim that the watchdogs need to be looking at probation as they are the most corrupt in the county. Included in this story is going to be your comment to me specifically claiming to have information on a lot of officials in this county that if exposed would put people in jail. In addition to that will be the statement that you are going to have to think about exposing it as you have to make a living for your family and if you go public there is going to be a whole lot of pissed off people. You specifically stated, remember I take good notes, “I’m going to have to think about it. I have to ensure that I’m protected so I would need to talk to the sheriff.” Have you had that conversation with the Sheriff yet?
Dee, you are an officer of the law who claimed to me on the phone you love your job. Need I remind you that as an officer of the law you are duty bound to report any and all crimes you have knowledge of? Your silence on the matters you discussed on the phone is a clear breach of your oath of office, which tends to be a common trade in this county.
I am giving you this chance to come forward and do the right thing. I much rather give credit to law enforcement for holding people accountable to the law than holding law enforcement accountable for failing to do their job. Again, as I told you on the phone, if you stand for truth and expose truth I will support every aspect of that truth. I will run the story!
It’s your choice.
Edgar County Watchdogs
And, run it he did. So much for a “cease and desist” letter, huh? Really, who is intimidated by that BS? Not us. Not when we have the truth, the First Amendment, and established case law on our side.
This shit has been tried before with us. Every SINGLE time we move into a new county for coverage, some pompous ass threatens us with a lawsuit (South Counties readers will remember the thrilling events of late 2009 surrounding Bernie Bayer and the fact that ChickenBob Wilson came to his “rescue”…which is how he earned the nickname ChickenBob). Sometimes these losers get as far as a C&D letter. But never, not one time, do they get to the filing stage. Why?
Because of a little thing called SUBPOENA POWER. See, the minute we become the subject of a lawsuit, we’re able to find out all the secrets of a public official’s (and, really, even a private citizen’s, if it originates from that) life and lifestyle, because we have to prepare a defense. And of course, the truth is the best defense, so we are able to ask for–subpoena–things we wouldn’t ordinarily. Like bank statements. Medical records. Personal spending habits on credit cards, you know, like what stores you frequent. God forbid the PO really likes bizarre sex toys. Or gay bars. So you see some of the hidden drawbacks here.
And we’re allowed to have to have all that…even though we don’t have to defend our position, at least, not right away. You see, when someone files a libel suit (because that’s what this is; defamation comes from either libel or slander, and the legal term for such a filing against a media outlet would be LIBEL, not defamation), it’s up to that person to prove WE’RE WRONG….it’s not up to us to prove we’re right, because truth is its own defense, and we’re printing nothing but the truth, which is the position on which we stand. Bottom line: Deeboy is going to learn pretty soon, if he hasn’t already, that he does NOT want to tangle with the real media. There are many, many more Constitutional protections for us than there are for public officials. In fact, one of the downfalls to being a PO is that because he has what’s called “civil immunity,” wherein he’s protected from lawsuit-happy suspects he has to handcuff and take on down to the station, that very civil immunity extends to us as the media. Because he’s “immune,” we are also “immune” to repercussions from calling him something like a “fool,” an “asswipe,” a “bumbling moronic dweeb,” and etcetera. Because we can do all that under the auspices of editorializing….something else we’re allowed to have in the world of media: AN OPINION.
All our opinioning in the world; all the publishing of documents and facts obtained from FOIA; all the headlines posing questions and everything else that Schwartz attempted to throw back at us, won’t diminish Burgin in the eyes of anyone. It won’t do him any harm at all. It won’t impact his image and prevent him from going about his daily life in the least. Why?
Because Dee Burgin is doing this to himself. And we don’t make people do stupid things. We just write about it when they do.
And if a law firm has such a significant problem with the goings-on in a county that has literally been RAVAGED by corruption for DECADES, and with a crew of dedicated people who are trying to not only uncover it but wanting to put an end to it, then we know where the REAL problem lies. And it ISN’T with the Watchdogs or with a newspaper that has earned its place in the journalism world for digging out the tough stories and exposing it all, regardless of empty threats being tossed around.