Crime & Courts

2 former McHenry County Board candidates name Jack Franks as defendant in defamation suit

Accusations that previously appeared on campaign flyers have come into question again with the filing of a second defamation lawsuit.

A pair of former McHenry County Board candidates, Orville Brettman and Ersel Schuster, claimed in a 15-page court filing that they were targets of “humiliating” and “false” claims that were printed and distributed throughout the county before the March primary election.

The suit comes on the heels of a Chicago printer’s claims that McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks’ former campaign manager is involved with an anonymous group that funded accusatory ads against County Clerk and Recorder Joe Tirio.

Franks, whom Brettman and Schuster named in their complaint, said he was unaware of the lawsuit Friday, but said he wore it as a “badge of honor.”

“I’m really proud to be a defendant in a lawsuit against hate, violence and bigotry, and I look forward to thrashing these folks in court,” Franks said.

Although he didn’t admit to any involvement with the flyers, the board chairman said information supporting the allegations against Schuster and Brettman are “well-documented.”

“These two people are dangerous, and they need to be exposed,” he said.

Franks is only one of several defendants named in a 15-page suit, which was filed Tuesday in McHenry County court. Franks’ former campaign director, Michael Noonan, Sean Tenner – a former aide of Barack Obama and owner of KNI Communications – Roosevelt Group Inc., KNI Inc., Breaker Press Co. Inc. and the unnamed people responsible for the Illinois Integrity Fund also are listed as defendants.

Through their attorney, James Bishop, Brettman and Schuster are suing each defendant individually for $50,000 in damages and court costs.

The suit claims that between Feb. 27 and March 20 those entities conspired to write, design and print “thousands of defamatory flyers.”

Brettman claims the flyers falsely stated that he and Schuster have a “history of criminality and hate.”

Specifically, the suit referenced news headlines from the Northwest Herald, New York Times and Elgin-based Daily Courier News. The flyers displayed news clips from articles that were published between January 1979 and March 2018, some of which reported Brettman’s admitted involvement with a “right-wing paramilitary group.”

The suit claims that whoever created the fliers should have known that headlines such as “C’ville president planned illegal spying, burglaries” and “Death threat against county official traced to home of McHenry County Board candidate Ersel Schuster” were false and defamatory.

“Collectively, the flyers represent the product of an intentional and malicious scheme orchestrated by the Defendants herein, to humiliate, intimidate, embarrass and deprecate private citizens running for political office ...” the complaint stated.

Some of those referenced headlines were tied to stories about Brettman’s involvement in a group that called itself the Legion of Justice.

In July 1975, Brettman told a Cook County grand jury he took part in illegal activities with the Legion, which was suspected of partnering with the Chicago Police Department to burglarize left-wing groups.

In exchange for his testimony, a judge granted Brettman immunity, and the transcripts of the grand jury proceedings were sealed. Years later, the transcripts of that testimony found their way into the exhibits of a related court case.

The Northwest Herald ran a separate story in March 2018 reporting that the IP address tied to an apparent online threat against Franks’ life was traced back to Schuster’s home.

On July 17, Lakewood Police contacted Franks to let him know that McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally would not be pursuing criminal charges against the suspected commenter, Schuster’s husband, because the post didn’t constitute a “true threat,” Kenneally said at the time.

Reached by phone Friday, both Brettman and Schuster declined to directly answer questions about the lawsuit and referred the Northwest Herald to their attorney, who could not be reached for comment.

Brettman and Schuster’s lawsuit will resume March 21 in McHenry County court.

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