Sondra Matterness called the Northwest Herald on Wednesday to clear up her involvement in a lawsuit filed on her behalf against sheriff candidate Andrew Zinke: Her car was there, but she wasn’t.
Attorney Robert Hanlon filed the lawsuit Friday, alleging that Zinke illegally looked up the license plate of Matterness, who he describes in the lawsuit as “78 years of age with a bad hip,” after Zinke was served with a subpoena to give a deposition in a case in which Hanlon is the defendant.
But the lawsuit’s wording does not identify who served the subpoena on the night of Jan. 13. Matterness called Wednesday from Arizona to insist that she did not serve it and wasn’t even in Illinois at the time. She let her friend, who serves such notices, use her car.
While she said she knew the lawsuit was going to be filed, she was surprised by the publicity it has received in local anti-Zinke blogs and the media. Zinke, who is presently county undersheriff, is locked in a contentious Republican primary race with former Des Plaines Police Cmdr. Bill Prim to replace retiring Sheriff Keith Nygren.
“I understood that none of this would come out in the paper,” Matterness said.
The lawsuit alleges that Zinke yelled and screamed in response to getting the subpoena at his Woodstock home, raced outside in his socks “in an indignant rage” to stand in front of Matterness’ car and take down her license plate before he “strutted back to his residence” and later ran Matterness’ plate.
It is illegal to use the Law Enforcement Agencies Database System, also known as LEADS, for personal reasons.
Two calls to Matterness for follow-up questions were not returned, but Hanlon called about 45 minutes later to tell the Northwest Herald to stop trying to contact his client. And while Hanlon’s phone call confirmed the caller was Matterness, he would not comment about the case or the identity of who in fact served Zinke.
“I’m not going to discuss my case in the newspaper,” Hanlon said.
Attorney James Bishop, who Zinke has retained regarding Hanlon’s lawsuit, has no self-imposed prohibition. He said the lawsuit’s timing, substance and language – such as why Matterness’ bad hip is relevant if she wasn’t even there – is a clear-cut case of a frivolous lawsuit with a political end.
“I believe this to be nothing more than Cook County politics, and it is certainly designed for the purpose of trying to embarrass Zinke just by associating him with 8-year-old litigation,” Bishop said.
Hanlon’s lawsuit was part of a two-pronged attack launched last week by Prim supporters less than two weeks before the March 18 primary. He filed it the day after State’s Attorney Lou Bianchi released a statement alleging that he has traced what he calls libelous comments about him posted on a local blog to Zinke’s campaign manager.
Both items were promptly posted after their releases to Cal Skinner’s McHenry County Blog. Skinner, who opposes Zinke, retained Hanlon last year to defend him against an allegation by Zinke that an ethics complaint Skinner filed against him was frivolous.
Hanlon, Bianchi and Bianchi’s campaign have donated to Prim and are actively helping in his election efforts.
Zinke is named by Hanlon as an “interested party” in the lawsuit for which he was summoned to give a deposition. Charles August, an organizer for the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150, sued Hanlon in 2006, alleging he libeled him in an article in another newspaper. The court sided with Hanlon, but the ruling was overturned last year on appeal.
Zinke was added to the lawsuit’s file as a party of interest Jan. 15, two days after the summons, Bishop said. But Bishop, Zinke and at least one other witness the newspaper has talked to said Hanlon approached Zinke in October at a police chief’s meeting in Marengo about serving him with a subpoena. Zinke said he told Hanlon to serve him at the courthouse and heard nothing until the January delivery to his home.
Zinke admitted running the license plate, but said he did it for legitimate reasons in response to a “scary-looking lady dressed in all black” who said nothing, waved papers in his face and threw them at his feet. Both Zinke and his wife work in law enforcement.
Matterness disagreed in her brief talk with the newspaper.
“He should have never run a lead on my license plate,” she said.
But Bishop defended Zinke’s actions and said he was forced into it by a frivolous legal action.
“[Zinke] was dragged into this ... in order for Hanlon to take Zinke’s deposition, and we believe all of that was spurious and politically motivated, because Andy has no connection with either of the parties,” Bishop said.
Zinke’s campaign manager, Tamara DeModica, vehemently denies Bianchi’s accusation that she is the anonymous commenter he is pursuing in a defamation lawsuit.
• Northwest Herald News Editor Kevin Lyons contributed to this story.