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Chrzanowski v. Bianchi

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

August 2, 2013

Kirk Chrzanowski, Plaintiff-Appellant,
Louis A. Bianchi, et al., Defendants-Appellees

Argued April 5, 2013

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Western Division. No. 12 C 50020 — Philip G. Reinhard, Judge.

Before Easterbrook, Chief Judge, and Flaum and Wood, Circuit Judges.

Wood, Circuit Judge.

From January 2006 until he lost his job in December 2011, Kirk Chrzanowski was an assistant state's attorney in the McHenry County State's Attorney's Office. Problems arose for Chrzanowski in early 2011, when a special prosecutor began investigating suspected wrongdoing by Chrzanowski's boss, McHenry County State's Attorney Louis Bianchi. Bianchi allegedly had improperly influenced the handling of cases involving his relatives and political allies. Under command of a subpoena, Chrzanowski testified before the grand jury, and later, after receiving another subpoena, he testified at Bianchi's trial. A few months after the trial, Chrzanowski was called into Bianchi's office, interrogated about his testimony by Bianchi and another prosecutor, Michael Combs, and fired. Chrzanowski believes that this was "in retaliation for his truthful testimony." He filed suit a month later, alleging that Bianchi and Combs violated his rights under the First Amendment and various state statutes.

The defendants moved to dismiss Chrzanowski's § 1983 claims, arguing that the First Amendment's protections do not apply to any of his testimony because his statements were given "pursuant to [his] official duties" as a public employee. See Garcetti v. Ceballos, 547 U.S. 410, 421 (2006). The district court agreed, holding that Chrzanowski had not presented a valid constitutional claim; in the alternative, the court held that the defendants were entitled to qualified immunity, since any First Amendment protections that might have attached to his testimony were not "clearly established" at the time. We reverse.


Our analysis relies on the facts contained in Chrzanowski's complaint, which at this stage we accept as true and construe in Chrzanowski's favor. Justice v. Town of Cicero, 577 F.3d 768, 771 (7th Cir. 2009).

Chrzanowksi began working in the McHenry County State's Attorney's Office as an assistant state's attorney in January 2006. Initially he was assigned to the Office's misdemeanor division, but eventually he assumed responsibility for prosecuting more serious drug offenses and other felonies. He received positive performance reviews and raises in 2006, 2007, 2008 (twice), 2009 and 2010.

In early 2011, Chrzanowksi received a subpoena to testify before a grand jury. He complied and gave sworn testimony concerning allegations that Bianchi had improperly influenced a negotiated plea in a case for which Chrzanowski was principally responsible. On February 24, 2011, the grand jury returned an indictment against Bianchi on charges of official misconduct in violation of 720 ILCS 5/33-3(b). Chrzanowski was listed as a potential trial witness on April 6, 2011, and he received a trial subpoena two months later. He testified in the prosecution's case-in-chief on August 1, 2011.

From the outset, Bianchi and his allies were concerned by Chrzanowski's cooperation with the investigation. Upon learning of the grand jury subpoena, Ron Salgado, the chief investigator in the McHenry County State's Attorney's Office (and a friend and political ally of Bianchi), tried to speak with Chrzanowski. Chrzanowski avoided his calls. Terry Ekl, Bianchi's defense counsel, also tried to contact Chrzanowski after the special prosecutor identified Chrzanowski as a potential trial witness, but again Chrzanowski ignored requests to discuss the Bianchi investigation. On cross-examination at Bianchi's trial, Ekl pointedly brought up Chrzanowski's refusal to discuss the case before the trial:

Q: And you didn't feel that you owed your boss any obligation to talk to his lawyer before this trial, right?
A: My only obligation is to tell the truth here, sir.

Over the same period, Bianchi began placing memoranda and notes in Chrzanowski's personnel file; these notes bore little relation to Chrzanowski's work performance. For instance, on June 6, 2011, Bianchi placed a negative report in Chrzanowski's file because Chrzanowski failed to introduce Bianchi to "two college females" who were interning in the office. "He never would have thought of introducing me to them had I not stopped him and made a point of it, " Bianchi wrote. ...

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