Orland Park, Illinois (ECWd) -
Bridget Bittman, the public information officer and self-styled "crisis manager" of the Orland Park Public Library (OPPL), filed what we refer to as a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) last October against several outspoken critics of the library and its Board of Trustees. This suit is meritless and is clearly intended to scare away critics of public library boards and prevent them from speaking out against illegal activity committed by library staffers and board members. Read our other articles on this lawsuit (HERE).
It feels like a line in the sand has been drawn, and public libraries in our state are afraid that if the critics of the OPPL are not utterly destroyed then the spotlight of scrutiny will fall on other libraries…since none of them want to be next, they all wish to obliterate the OPPL's critics.
This week, Bittman's attorney, Meghan Nugent of the Mudd law firm in Chicago, filed for another extension to delay responding to Motions to Dismiss the suit under Illinois' anti-SLAPP legislation. Bittman's meritless SLAPP lawsuit appears to be designed to silence critics who have shined a spotlight on the fact that the OPPL allowed child porn to be accessed in the library and never called the police (as they were required to do, not only under federal and state law but also according to their own internal written policies).
The OPPL has publicly admitted that child porn was accessed in March of 2011 and that staff chose not to call the police. The man who accessed the child porn got away, even when he came back to the library a second time (and staff spotted him, but again, chose not to call the police). No explanation was ever given for why Library Director Mary Weimar decided to keep the child porn incident under wraps and allow this man to get away, but in August 2014 OPPL Trustee (and attorney) Diane Irene Jennings gave a speech at a board meeting where she confirmed that the child porn had been accessed and staff did not respond properly. You can watch that admission here.
Bittman herself also admitted that the child porn had been accessed and that other illegal acts and disturbing sexual incidents had occurred in the OPPL through the years. Almost none of these incidents were ever reported to police by library staff. There have been more incidents like this at the OPPL than at any other library in the area because staff at the OPPL appear to have deliberately looked the other way when these things were happening. Bittman admits to the child porn on Dan Proft and Bruce Wolf's radio show (HERE).
When Jennings and Bittman go out in public together, they behave reprehensibly (HERE).
Bittman's ongoing SLAPP suit is important to keep an eye on for several reasons, most importantly because the OPPL proves that public libraries across our state are currently covering up incidents of child porn access, public masturbation, stalking, and other sex acts that occur in libraries, and library boards don't want critics shining a light on what is happening.
Most people can't imagine a public library doing anything illegal, but clearly it's time we start shining a spotlight on these library boards in every county.
The American Library Association and the Illinois Library Association give seminars to library employees on how to evade our state's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and Open Meetings Act laws and we have been told this also includes how to use the police and media as weapons against citizens who complain about illegal activities happening in libraries. The goal is to scare away critics and to create a chilling effect in Illinois where people at large are terrified of speaking out against government bodies, even public libraries and their boards.
Megan Fox and Kevin DuJan, two conservative writers in Chicago, used FOIA requests to uncover incident reports completed by OPPL employees in recent years that showed child porn was accessed in the library and that other crimes were committed and covered up. They also discovered evidence of thousands of dollars of wasteful spending at the OPPL, including board members improperly using public funds to take themselves out to expensive dinners and buy food for themselves for board meetings (which is prohibited under state law).
Bittman, acting as the OPPL's spokesperson to the media, lied about the events occurring in the library and tried to discredit Fox & DuJan and turn the public against them. She's continued to lie in press releases and interviews since. Laughably, local media never fact-checks her...but anyone following the story and watching the determinations made by the Attorney General regarding the OPPL's actions can see this board has been in the wrong at every step.
This nonstop lying to the media has been part of the OPPL's crisis management strategy to scare away Fox & DuJan as critics. When they wouldn't be scared away, the OPPL used the Orland Park Police as a weapon against them and kept escalating things in a pattern and practice of intimidation tactics. Because Fox & DuJan have held their ground and the OPPL has refused to own up to and remedy its wrongdoing, the OPPL's "crisis management" efforts of attack have reached epic proportions.
A SLAPP suit, by definition, is one designed to have a chilling effect on public participation and to make the public scared of criticizing public bodies like the OPPL. This lawsuit by Bittman also seemed designed to cut Fox & DuJan off from allies like Kleinman, Adrzejewski, and For the Good of Illinois and alienate them from their natural supporters. It seems like the OPPL wanted to cost Fox & DuJan the support they already had and keep anyone else out there from joining in the efforts to uncover what's been going on in that place.
It's curious how many extensions Bittman's attorney keeps filing. You'd think that if this lawsuit had any merit that her attorney would be prepared to bring the case before the judge. Instead, she just seems to be delaying and delaying and delaying for no apparent good reason.
Bittman has claimed in online postings that she is paying for her attorney out of her own pocket through a $10,000 home equity loan and that the Mudd law firm is not working on a contingency basis but is instead charging her an astronomical retainer and billing by the hour. Normally, attorneys work on contingency if they believe the case is strong and that the plaintiff is in the right. If it's a good case, an attorney feels confident of prevailing and being paid in a judgment.
When an attorney demands a retainer and requires rolling payment for hours worked on a case, it seems like a law firm didn't have enough faith in the merits of the case to take the work on contingency. A hefty retainer seems like a warning sign that a plaintiff's case is meritless and that the attorney didn't have enough faith in winning to risk a contingency agreement.
Under Illinois' anti-SLAPP legislation, Bittman could eventually be held responsible for the attorneys fees that Fox & DuJan, et al. have incurred because of her vexatious SLAPP suit. That's going to be a lot of money in legal bills. It could be record-setting, considering the caliber of attorneys involved on the defense team.
Fox & DuJan are represented by Kirkland & Ellis, which was recently ranked as the most prestigious law firm in Chicago by Business Insider magazine. Kleinman is represented by a top gay rights attorney downtown (because Kleinman reported on Bittman making homophobic slurs in public last year). Andrzejewski and For the Good of Illinois are represented by the Thomas More Society, which is one of the country's most respected public-interest law firms.
The new deadline for Bittman to respond to the motions to dismiss this lawsuit is April 23rd, 2014. Then, Fox & DuJan and the others will have until May14th to rebut whatever the Mudd law firm comes up with in this next filing, unless Bittman kicks the can down the road again and delays things some more.
Meanwhile, critics of government waste and illegal activity continue to be afraid to speak up because Fox & DuJan and the others have been SLAPPed in this high profile suit. The intended effect of a meritless and vexatious lawsuit like this is to scare away watchdogs and critics, because people in Illinois are afraid of being sued like Fox & DuJan and the others were sued.
Bittman goes off on vacation to sunny (and expensive!) Florida. Her lawyers put in for more extensions (and billable hours to eat up that retainer!). And the people of Illinois get scared of what will happen to them if they criticize their government (SLAPP!).