Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Fourth Division
[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 11 L 5466. Honorable William E. Gomolinski, Judge Presiding.
Plaintiff's defamation action against a blogger who questioned plaintiff's qualifications to be a candidate for a position as an alderman based on her alleged violation of Illinois law by having a homestead exemption on two different houses was properly dismissed on the ground that the action was barred by the Illinois Citizen Participation Act, since defendant sustained his burden of proving that plaintiff's lawsuit was intended to stop him from exercising his protected political rights and was meritless and retaliatory, and plaintiff failed to present clear and convincing evidence that defendant's statements were made for any purpose other than obtaining a favorable governmental outcome; therefore, defendant was immune from liability.
James J. Macchitelli, of Law Office of James Macchitelli, of Schaumburg, for appellant.
Christopher Koczwara, of Law Office of Christopher Koczwara, PC, of Chicago, for appellee.
JUSTICE EPSTEIN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Fitzgerald Smith and Justice Taylor concurred in the judgment and opinion.
[¶1] This appeal addresses whether the Illinois Citizen Participation Act (the Act) (735 ILCS 110/1 et seq. (West 2010)) bars a defamation suit filed by a former candidate for public office against a blogger who wrote an article questioning whether the candidate was qualified to run for office. Plaintiff Anna Goral, the former candidate, appeals from the trial court's order granting defendant Joseph Kulys's motion to dismiss pursuant to section 2-619(a)(9) of the Code of Civil Procedure. 735 ILCS 5/2-619(a)(9) (West 2010). We affirm the trial court's dismissal, as defendant's speech was protected by the Act and plaintiff's suit was designed to chill defendant's exercise of that protected activity.
[¶2] I. BACKGROUND
[¶3] Plaintiff was a candidate for alderman in the 23rd Ward in Chicago. On February 7, 2011, defendant posted the following article, entitled, " Anna and Jack Goral Live Where?" on his blog:
" People who run for public office should know that they are running for a position of public trust.
Anna Goral, a candidate for 23rd Ward alderman, says she knows that. On her website, she writes, 'I believe holding an elected position is a public trust.'
OK so far.
Anna says she lives in the 23rd Ward, at 6500 W. Archer; as does her husband, Jack Goral.
But wait. Is that accurate?
Check the online records of the Cook County Treasurer and the Cook County Recorder of Deeds; specifically, look up the residential property at 7 Cinnamon Creek Drive, in southwest suburban Palos Hills.
Those county records identify Anna Goral as the owner, and that she purchased it in 2009, the last year records are available.
As many of us know, the homeowner's exemption can save you a lot of money on your taxes. For the Cinnamon Creek Drive property, Anna Goral reduced her taxes by $1,496.39 last year when she received the homeowner's exemption,
according to records posted on the website of the Cook County Assessor.
Here's where it gets interesting.
State law requires that owners live in the property for which they are seeking the 'homeowner exemption' tax break. Violation of the law governing homeowner exemptions is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a maximum fine of $2,500.
So here's what it boils down to: either Anna Goral lives in the city--at 6500 W. Archer, as she stated in writing to the Chicago Board of Elections (her notarized nominating petitions)--or she lives in Palos Hills, as the Cook County government websites appear to indicate.
If she lives in Palos Hills, she is not qualified to run for alderman of Chicago's 23rd Ward. If she lives in Chicago, then she may be in violation of state law.
Which is it?
The appropriate authorities will sort this out. I have shared the information with the Cook County Assessor's Office, as well as the Cook County State's Attorney's Office. I expect they will investigate and render a decision.
The Cook County Assessor's Office, which records tax data on approximately 1.5 million pieces of property, has traditionally relied on tips from citizens and journalists about alleged abuses of the homeowner exemption.
Additionally, I note that the Cook County government's online records appear to indicate that Anna Goral's husband, Jack Goral, claims homeowner exemptions on two residences, which if true is also a violation of state law. The residences are 8828 Concord Lane, in southwest suburban Justice, and 6500 W. Archer in the city. On the property in Justice, Jack received a tax break of $961.75 last year. On the Archer Avenue property, he got a tax break of $277.61.
I await word back from county authorities and will share it when I receive it." (Emphases in original.)
Plaintiff lost the election on February 22, 2011.
[¶4] On April 14, 2011, defendant posted another article entitled, " Where is [ sic ] Anna and Jack...an Assessor's update." The article restated the assertions in defendant's February 7, 2011 article and added the following:
" Here's the update: I spoke on the phone with Kelley Quinn of the Cook County Assessor's Office, who told me that the Goral-owned residences have been places [sic] in the 'Denied' file--meaning that the Goral's [sic] will no longer automatically receive their homeowners tax breaks. If they want to straighten things out, they will have to ...