When a candidate for governor sued news organization alleging defamation and libel as a result of news organization’s statements concerning candidate’s domestic violence conviction and history as gang member, summary judgment was granted for news organization. The appellate court found that the statements about the candidate’s domestic violence conviction were substantially true, and that the statement’s about the candidate’s history as a gang member, while false, were not made with actual malice.
In August 2013, Tio Hardiman declared his intention to run for Governor of Illinois. In January 2014, it was announced that Hardiman’s name would appear first on the Democratic gubernatorial primary ballot. After the announcement, Hardiman was interviewed by Mike Flannery, the political editor for Fox Chicago WFLD for a segment slated to air during WFLD’s 9 p.m. news broadcast. Ahead of the broadcast, Katie Fraser, WFLD’s web producer, wrote an article for WFLD’s website titled, “Controversial candidate remains on primary ballot for governor.” The article detailed Hardiman’s explanation to Flannery of the dismissal of a 1999 guilty plea and conviction for misdemeanor domestic violence against Hardiman’s then wife.
Prior to the broadcast, a teaser was read on-air by news anchor Jeff Herndon, stating, “Also, a former gang member who was once accused of beating his wife wants to be your governor. Why he says voters shouldn’t be concerned about his domestic violence conviction.” At some point after Hardiman’s interview aired, Hardiman contacted the WFLD newsroom stating that he was not a former gang member. That same night, WFLD clarified on air that Hardiman stated that he had worked closely with gang members but was not, himself, a gang member. Later that evening, Hardiman saw the web article and contacted WFLD a second time, requesting that they retract the portion of the article concerning Hardiman’s domestic violence conviction. WFLD later updated the article to specify that Hardiman had received a sentence of probation after pleading guilty to the charge.
In December 2014, Hardiman sued Flannery and Fox. Hardiman later amended his complaint to bring claims against Fraser, and two other WFLD producers. The complaint asserted claims for defamation, libel, false light invasion of privacy, and reckless infliction of emotional distress. The plaintiffs moved for summary judgment. The circuit court of Cook County granted the motion, and Hardiman appealed.
The Illinois Appellate Court, First District, began by finding that Hardiman’s claims regarding the statements about his misdemeanor domestic violence conviction were not actionable because the statements were substantially true. The panel stated that there was no serious question that simple battery against one’s spouse constitutes an act of domestic violence and that a guilty plea and conviction both result in criminal culpability for an act.
Next, the panel addressed the statements regarding Hardiman’s status as “a former gang member.” The panel stated that, though the statement was false, it was not actionable per se, as it did not fall within any recognized category of statements that are defamatory per se. The panel then found that judgment was appropriate for defendants because Hardiman could not establish that the defendants acted with actual malice. The panel stated that Hardiman was a public figure at the time of the statements, and that, in order to prevail, he was required to show that the defendants knew the statement was false, had a high degree of awareness that the statement was false, or entertained serious doubts about the truth of the statements made. The panel found that Hardiman had failed to provide evidence suggesting meeting his burden for any of the elements of the actual malice standard. The panel, therefore, affirmed the decision of the circuit court.
You can view the decision here.
Our Chicago defamation, slander and libel lawyers have prosecuted or defended defamation cases for over two decades. We have succeeded in defeating or prevailing on many of the defenses that are employed in these cases such as those employed in the Hardiman case.
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