Eric leads one of the peaceful 2007 protests that Planned Parenthood answered by libeling him [Photo by Elizabeth Carlos]
I was at Brookfield Zoo with my family on June 1 when I received the following text message from my assistant, Matt Yonke: “Congrats on the vacated dismissal order!” Clearly Matt had received word that a long-awaited ruling in my lawsuit Planned Parenthood had finally been handed down.
It was fitting that the latest news in this difficult case would come while I was with my family—in this case, celebrating my daughter Sarah’s fifth birthday with a trip to the zoo. I had once received the extremely disappointing news of a refused appeal on the road for a family vacation to Pennsylvania. It seemed every development in the case—until now, all bad ones—had come while I was trying to spend time with my wife April and our eight children.
I took a break from the polar bears and giraffes to call my attorneys at the Thomas More Society. They confirmed that, indeed, Judge Judith Brawka had just reversed her September 2008 ruling against me in Scheidler v. Trombley, my libel suit against Planned Parenthood.
Not only did this mean that I could now go forward with my libel suit and finally seek justice from Planned Parenthood for trying to destroy my good name, but Planned Parenthood’s demand for $494,405 in legal fees was now completely moot! For nearly four years I had had that fee demand hanging over my head—and now it was gone!
Sandholm Ruling Paves the Way
Judge Brawka’s ruling came as a result of an Illinois Supreme Court ruling in a case called Sandholm v. Kuecker, which dealt with some of the same legal issues involved in my case. Sandholm wasn’t an abortion case. In fact, it was about a basketball coach who lost his job when a group of parents who disapproved of his methods started a public campaign to get him fired.
What linked these two libel cases together is that they were both dismissed on the basis of the Citizens Participation Act (CPA), an Illinois law designed to make it easier for judges to throw out groundless lawsuits filed only to silence or intimidate one’s opponents.
That’s what Planned Parenthood claimed I was trying to do to them with my libel suit, and they convinced Judge Brakwa to dismiss my suit under the CPA. It didn’t matter to the judge whether Planned Parenthood lied when they publicly claimed the Pro-Life Action League has a “well-documented history of advocating violence.”
In effect, Judge Brawka granted Planned Parenthood a “License to Lie.” Even worse, the judge ruled that Planned Parenthood could force me to pay all their legal fees—to the tune of $494,405.
But the Illinois Supreme Court rejected Judge Brawka’s reasoning in their Sandholm ruling, handed down in January. The high court ruled that the CPA was not intended by the Illinois General Assembly to grant blanket immunity from libel charges. In other words, it matters whether you’re telling the truth about your opponents or not—the CPA is not a “License to Lie.”
Libel Case Against PP Revived
I was overjoyed when I learned about the Supreme Court’s Sandholm ruling, which my attorneys and I had been awaiting anxiously. It ought to mean that the judgement against me would be reversed, and Planned Parenthood’s half-million dollar fee demand thrown out. But how would Judge Brawka respond?
It wasn’t until March that I finally appeared before Judge Brawka again. I was hopeful that she would rule in my favor immediately and allow me to move forward with my case against Planned Parenthood. Instead she announced she would hand down a written ruling in May.
Her ruling didn’t come until June 1, but it was worth the wait. Judge Brawka reverse her previous ruling against me, and I was no longer on the hook to pay Planned Parenthood’s attorney’s fees. Moreover, I would now be able to move forward with my libel case and clear my good name.
My legal battle with Planned Parenthood is far from over, and their lawyers will try every trick in the book to get my case thrown out again. But now they’re back on the defensive where they belong, and the way has opened up again for me to finally hold Planned Parenthood accountable for their lies.