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WFLD Defamation Lawsuit Can Continue, Illinois Appeals Court Rules

An Illinois appeals court has ruled that a defamation lawsuit against Chicago Fox O&O WFLD and Fox Television can continue. The defamation lawsuit stems from a series of reports that the station did in May 2010 on spotlighting four judges, including James Ryan, who had been leaving the courthouse “well before the end of the business day,” according to court documents. The Hollywood Reporter has details:

The Fox investigation included logs from the sheriff’s office showing that courtrooms were closing earlier than they should have been, hidden cameras showing judges leaving early, an on-scene reporting, such as one reporter who found a judge sunbathing outside of her home at 2 pm.

But the report also had an error. The Fox station identified Judge Ryan as being one of the judges who left work earlier. In the report, the station showed his house and car in the driveway during work hours. Unfortunately, the house and car belonged to his neighbor.

Ryan filed a $28 million lawsuit accusing WFLD and Fox Television of defamation, false light, infliction of emotional distress and invasion of privacy by intrusion. Fox Television filed a motion to dismiss the complaint on the grounds that it was an infringement of free speech.  In the ruling, Justice Maureen Elizabeth Connors looks at the state’s anti-SLAPP law, which aims to “cut short litigation intended to be bullying,” according to THR:

In Illinois’ version of the anti-SLAPP statute, judges are supposed to analyze whether claims arise from a party’s right to speech, petition or association — dismissing such lawsuits unless the plaintiff has produced “clear and convincing evidence” of immunity from liability. Further guidance from previous appellate decisions in the state say that dismissal is warranted only in the instances of being meritless and retaliatory.

In the lawsuit against Fox, Justice Connors finds Ryan’s lawsuit arose from protected activities — the furtherance of free speech — and that the claims qualify as retaliatory … But Justice Connors agrees with a lower court and says that the anti-SLAPP motion should fail because it wasn’t meritless.

A WFLD spokesperson told TVSpy, “We are reviewing the judge’s ruling.”

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