From the Fall 2007 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 18.
May and November 2003: Kane County (Ill.) Chronicle columnist Bill Page writes three columns saying Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Thomas played “a little political shimmy-shammy” in the discipline hearing of a local prosecutor.
Jan. 9, 2004: Thomas sues the Chronicle’s parent company, its managing editor and Page for libel.
Jan. 25, 2005: After the Chronicle subpoenas several Illinois Supreme Court justices, Circuit Judge Donald O’Brien rules that a judicial deliberation privilege exists only between law clerks and the justice they work for but does not cover communications between justices (or between a justice and another justice’s law clerks). The Chronicle and the justices appeal.
Oct. 20: A three-judge panel of the state appeals court recognizes an absolute judicial deliberation privilege that prevents justices from having to testify about conversations between themselves, to their law clerks and to other justices’ law clerks. It also protects conversations between law clerks.
Feb. 8, 2006: In response to a Chronicle motion to appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court and to disqualify all the justices from hearing an appeal, the state Supreme Court issues an order stating that five justices would not take part in the decision, meaning the court does not have enough members to rule on the petition but returns the case to the trial court.
Nov. 14: A jury awards Thomas $7 million.
March 30, 2007: O’Brien reduces Thomas’ award to $4 million.
April: Both sides appeal.
June 12: The Chronicle and Page sue Thomas and 10 other Illinois judges in federal court, saying their handling of the case violates their constitutional rights and requesting that the court block the state courts from hearing the case until Thomas and the other parties leave the bench.
Oct. 11: The Chronicle and Page reach a settlement and issue an apology to the judge. Page continues to stand behind his columns.