Note: This was a guest article by Thomas More Society Pro-Life Law Center President and Chief Counsel Thomas L. Brejcha.
In response to statements made by Patricia Ireland on March 13, 2001 on the Fox network show “Hannity & Colmes” and then repeated on March 27, 2001 in an appearance at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL, Joseph Scheidler filed a libel suit against Ms. Ireland, former president of NOW. The lawsuit was filed in the Circuit Court of cook County, Law Division, which hears cases in the Richard J. Daley Center in downtown Chicago.
On “Hannity & Colmes”, Ireland expressed her concern that Priests for Life “are picking up where Joe Scheidler and the guys that we basically put out of business by proving to a jury unanimously that they were racketeers [had left off]. “[T]hey’re now trying to sell the Chicago method to start attacking the clinics again…”
She went on the describe the Chicago Method as “the physical violence at the clinics. It’s the attacks. It’s the terrorism.”
At Northwestern University, during the question and answer portion of her talk, Ireland reportedly picked up the same theme. She made accusations against Priests for Life and again linked the Chicago Method—which in a nonviolent method of sidewalk counseling publicized by Scheidler—with violence against abortion clinics.
Ireland has claimed in defense of the lawsuit that she cannot be sued in an Illinois Court since she does not live or regularly conduct business in Illinois. However, as illustrated by her appearance at Northwestern, she has, in fact, traveled to Illinois on a regular basis to further the aims of the National Organization for Women. Indeed, in her individual capacity as a lawyer she had filed an appearance here in federal district court, representing NOW and the abortion clinics in their RICO lawsuit against Scheidler here. Furthermore, Ms. Ireland’s conduct while she was in the State of Illinois—the libelous statements she repeated at Northwestern—forms part of the targeted subject matter of the lawsuit.
Tom Brejcha Obatains Court Order to Depose Ireland
Attorney Tom Brejcha secured a court order authorizing him to depose Patricia Ireland in January, 2002, principally for the purpose of proving that the Cook County Circuit Court has jurisdiction in this matter. He requested the assistance of Ann Scheidler who had served as paralegal during the preparation and trial of the massive RICO case, NOW v. Scheidler. But Ireland’s attorney, Fay Clayton, who also represents NOW in the RICO suit, objected to Scheidler’s presence, claiming that she would then be privy to restricted information, namely, “internal details” about the internal operation of the National Organization for Women. Brejcha assured Ms. Clayton and her associates that Mrs. Scheidler would abide by his commitment to maintain the confidentiality of all NOW documents that had been produced in the case, as for “counsel’s eyes only” (including members of the counsel’s staff). Such confidentiality would be observed, unless and until there was reason for counsel to use any particular document as evidence in open court, which would make it part of the public record. But the NOW lawyers scoffed at this assurance, insisting that Mrs. Scheidler was related to the plaintiff in the case, as the wife of Mr. Scheidler. Therefore, they contended, as the wife of a party Ann Scheidler could not be treated, independently of her husband, as a member of legal counsel’s staff, duly entitled to handle “confidential” documents and duly expected as any other paralegal to keep them confidential.
So on Friday, January 11, 2002, on the eve of the deposition, which was scheduled to take place the next Tuesday in Washington, DC, Brejcha had to bring an emergency motion in Circuit Court to secure his right to have the services of his chose (and only available) paralegal. Ireland’s attorney, Fay Clayton, sent a young new associate lawyer over to court to voice Ireland’s objections to Scheidler. At first, the associate tried to deny (on being asked that specific question by Judge Kathy Flanagan) that she was impugning Mrs. Scheidler’s integrity. It soon became clear that NOW’s sole objection boiled down to the claim that wives have no legal standing, independent of their husbands—an utterly meritless claim if voiced by anybody, let alone a lawyer representing NOW’s former president. Judge Flanagan ruled, as expected, that there were no valid grounds for Ireland’s and Clayton’s objections and Brejcha’s motion that Mrs. Scheidler be permitted to serve as his paralegal, organizing and keeping track of exhibits at the January 15th deposition, was granted.
Ireland Claims "Confidential" Information
The deposition took place in Washington DC as scheduled on January 15, 2002. Fay Clayton was present as Ireland’s attorney to represent her during the deposition. Ireland answered many of the questions that Brejcha, Scheidler’s counsel, put to her. But on instructions from Ms. Clayton, she stubbornly refused to answer many other questions. While the contents of the deposition are otherwise deemed “confidential,” that limitation only applies unless and until such contents must be used as part of a public filing in the trial court. And those excerpts from the deposition reflecting Ms. Ireland’s refusals to answer questions did become part of a public filing. This occurred when Brejcha promptly returned to Judge Flanagan’s courtroom, seeking—and getting—yet another order, this time requiring that Ms. Ireland reappear for further deposition and respond to almost all the questions she had refused to answer at the first deposition. Among other things, these related to her intent in making allegedly libelous statements about Scheidler on the Hannity & Colmes Fox TV show and at Northwestern University. Judge Flanagan admonished Ireland’s counsel that she would not tolerate any more “coaching” of the witness at the resumed deposition. On reviewing one of Ms. Claytons’ objections (printed in the deposition transcript) that one of Brejcha’s questions “didn’t make sense,” the Judge commented, “The objection doesn’t make sense.” Judge Flanagan directed that she be advised of the date, time, place, and phone number of the venue where the new deposition was to take place, so that she would be available for immediate consultation and ruling if any similar problems arose at the new deposition. That deposition has now been re-scheduled for Friday, April 5, at the offices of Scheidler’s Supreme Court counsel in Washington DC at 2 p.m. Chicago time. Judge Flanagan has been notified and will be ready to deal promptly and decisively with any more obstructive and dilatory tactics on the part of Ms. Ireland and Ms. Clayton.