ORLAND PARK, IL. (ECWd) -
Orland Park Public Library's marketing and public relations director, Bridget Bittman, has filed a civil suit in U.S. District Court in Chicago claiming "defamation per se, false light, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and [civil] assault" where she believes the defendants intentionally published false and misleading information designed do harm her reputation, further claiming it was not designed to affect changes in policy (trying to negate the SLAPP claim that will certainly follow).
Bittman seeks statutory damages, punitive damages, compensatory damages, attorney's costs and fees, and injunctive relief.
We are going to hit most of the points in the suit, and will provide our opinion and commentary at the end.
The creux of the case revolves around publication of several statements:
First, being a May 18, 2014 post on a facebook page that Bittman claims accused her of filing false police reports.
Specifically, Defendant Fox stated:
I wonder at what point in their presentation at the Hatefest that Mary Weimar and Bridget Bittman taught the other public employees in attendance about using the police as a weapon against their perceived enemies in the “opposition.” Do you know that the Orland Park Public Library Board contacted the police SIX TIMES in total to make false police complaints against me (and a few times against Kevin too) . . .
Second, Bittman complains about a picture and this statement claiming it portrayed Bittman as drinking alcohol while on the job at OPPL:
In a comment to the post with Google Photo, Defendant Fox stated:
[Bridget Bittman] would have to be drunk to claim the ridiculous things she does about the library in the media
“Sober up Bridget [t]he truth will set you free!”
Third, Bittman complains that Fox posted photographs of her home on Fox's facebook page.
Fourth, Bittman complains about the posting of a video where it was claimed that Bittman "commits disorderly conduct/breach of peace according to Officer Schmidt" in a confrontation outside the Orland Park Civic Center. The video also claimed that Bittman uttered anti-gay slurs and questioned whether Bittman was holding a weapon of some sort. The captions on the video stated, among others, that Bittman was cited for disorderly conduct/breach of peace for this incident, when she was not cited for it. Additionally, the caption said that Bittman engaged in shameful behavior and was highly unprofessional.
Fifth, Bittman complained that the other defendants republished articles with links to the video talked about above.
Sixth, Bittman claims Fox and DuJan created a "Sassyplants" facebook page, where they used her image, and alleged they attempted to make people think it was actually her facebook page, among other things.
Seventh, this complaint alleges that all parties collaborated and worked in concert with each other in making the statements.
Our Opinion on this suit:
-- Bittman acknowledged, that as an employee of the Orland Park Public Library, she responded to complaints from Fox and DuJan.
-- I am finding it hard to find, in the statement above, where Fox stated Bittman filed false police reports. I do see where Fox claimed the Orland Park Public Library Board did that.
-- The picture was of Bittman holding a bottle of champagne - but I do not see where that "portrayed" Bittman as drinking on the job.
-- I'm having a hard time seeing how posting a picture of a person's home on facebook is harassment, since google street view shows homes on the internet and Bittman's address is public record for anyone that wants to look. Additionally, with GIS technology at anyone's fingertips, most County Tax Assessors allow for searching of names that link to properties owned by an individual - to include pictures of their homes - and all available online, 24 hours/day.
-- The video. I was present in the interview room with Officer Schmidt where he told us, after watching the video, that he saw disorderly conduct/breach of peace within the video.
SLAPP - Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation - whether defendant can prevail in claiming this is a SLAPP suit is left to the Courts. I am presuming that this will be the first claimed defense, maybe not. The most common complaint used in SLAPP suits? Defamation.
The Illinois Citizen Participation Act, is designed for quick dissolution of lawsuits that can be proven to be designed to intimidate, or sue, others into not speaking out about public officers, public employees, and public contractors. One key element in claiming the suit is a SLAPP, is that whatever you were doing was designed around affecting a change in policy, and/or affecting a change in thought and attitudes to further affect change in policy.
Finally, read the statute dealing with Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, commonly refereed to as “SLAPP” lawsuits. The Illinois General Assembly recognized the need for public involvement, and their RIGHT to become involved, without the threat of lawsuits. Specifically, by enacting The Citizen Participation Act (735 ILCS 110), more commonly known as the Anti-SLAPP Act.
There has been a disturbing increase in lawsuits termed "Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation" in government or "SLAPPs" as they are popularly called.
The threat of SLAPPs significantly chills and diminishes citizen participation in government, voluntary public service, and the exercise of these important constitutional rights. This abuse of the judicial process can and has been used as a means of intimidating, harassing, or punishing citizens and organizations for involving themselves in public affairs... "
That's a pretty harsh statement, but is the leading statement in the Citizen Participation Act.