A coalition of news organizations convened by the Chicago Tribune is searching for to block the Chicago Park District’s efforts to seal a pending lawsuit alleging Mayor Lori Lightfoot yelled obscenities at and defamed a Park District lawyer throughout a name a few controversial Christopher Columbus statue.
The Park District earlier this month requested a Cook County decide to protect from the general public all information within the defamation lawsuit introduced by George Smyrniotis, a former Park District lawyer who alleges Lightfoot blocked an settlement that had been reached with an Italian American group to enable the statue to be displayed in a parade.
Smyrniotis additionally alleges the mayor yelled obscene comments at him and one other Park District lawyer on a heated Zoom name, declaring that whereas they have been “out there stroking your d—- over the Columbus statue, I am trying to keep Chicago police officers from being shot and you are trying to get them shot.”
The Park District is arguing the case needs to be sealed to defend attorney-client privilege because it defends itself in a separate lawsuit introduced by an Italian American group over Lightfoot’s determination to take away a Columbus statue in Little Italy following protests within the metropolis in 2020.
But the coalition of news organizations — which additionally contains the Chicago Sun-Times, Illinois Press Association, WBBM-Ch. 2, WMAQ-Ch. 5, WLS-Ch. 7, WFLD-Ch. 32, WBEZ and WGN-Ch. 9 — argues in a petition filed late Tuesday that “the public has a significant interest in knowing about allegations of government wrongdoing.” That curiosity outweighs the potential for privileged info being disclosed, the organizations argue of their court docket submitting.
“Allegations of workplace misconduct committed by a public official are significant in any context,” the petition states. “Against the backdrop where many public figures have been ousted from leadership roles based on statements or conduct that is thought to be insensitive or inappropriate, the public has an interest in the impact of statements that the complaint attributes to the mayor.”
Tribune Executive Editor Mitch Pugh stated in an announcement that “we find it unfathomable that anyone would argue this case should be conducted in secrecy given it involves the words and actions of public officials.”
“The coalition of media organizations that joined together to file this motion should be a clear signal of the stakes,” Pugh stated. “We are gratified to see this distinguished group of media companies stand united in defense of the public’s right to know.”
The media organizations additionally argue the general public has a vested curiosity within the debate over the elimination of monuments, which has grow to be a serious native and nationwide concern, in addition to public security, which Lightfoot allegedly mentioned.
“Weighing this blanket assertion of privilege against the wide-ranging and significant public interest in this matter, the balance weighs heavily in favor of disclosure here,” the news organizations acknowledged within the petition.
Park District spokeswoman Michele Lemons stated in an announcement that its movement was meant “to preserve its right to privileged communications with counsel.”
“The attorney-client privilege embodies a fundamental principle of our jurisprudence in that it protects the confidentiality of communications between attorney and client,” Lemons stated.
Smyrniotis’ lawyer declined to remark.
Lightfoot has stated she ordered the elimination of Columbus monuments after activists forcibly tried to take away a extra distinguished statue of Columbus in Grant Park, main to violent clashes between police and protesters. Soon after, the town took down the statues in Grant Park and Little Italy and later eliminated a lesser-known statue within the South Chicago neighborhood.
The elimination of the Little Italy Columbus statue prompted attorneys for the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans to sue, saying eradicating the statue violated a 1973 settlement. The defamation lawsuit alleges the Park District and the Italian American group had reached an settlement final year that may have allowed the statue to be displayed within the group’s annual Columbus Day parade and have been negotiating over its everlasting elimination.
When Lightfoot came upon, the lawsuit says, she threatened to pull the allow for the parade and ordered Park District officers — together with Smyrniotis, then deputy normal counsel for the Park District and who had labored on the settlement — to attend a Zoom meeting.
At the meeting final year, Smyrniotis alleges, Lightfoot “proceeded to berate and defame” the attorneys and requested them, “Where did you go to law school? Did you even go to law school? Do you even have a law license?”
Lightfoot instructed them that that they had to submit their pleadings to a metropolis lawyer for approval and have been instructed “not to do a f—— thing with that statue without my approval.”
“Get that f—— statue back before noon tomorrow or I am going to have you fired,” Lightfoot stated, in accordance to the grievance.
“You make some kind of secret agreement with Italians. … You are out there stroking your d—- over the Columbus statue, I am trying to keep Chicago police officers from being shot and you are trying to get them shot,” Lightfoot stated, in accordance to the grievance. “My d— is bigger than yours and the Italians, I have the biggest d— in Chicago.”
Lightfoot has dismissed the allegations within the defamation lawsuit as “wholly lacking in merit” and referred to as its claims “deeply offensive and ridiculous.”
Smyrniotis alleges the comments defamed him by implying he lacked the power to carry out his job duties. He resigned from the Park District in February, in accordance to the lawsuit.