A former McHenry County Board candidate with ties to a right-wing paramilitary group must answer questions about his 1975 grand jury testimony, a judge ordered Friday.
In a way, ex-Carpentersville-police officer and village president Orville Brettman has “painted himself into a corner,” Kane County Judge Kevin Busch said at a July hearing.
Brettman has filed a defamation suit claiming he was wrongfully depicted in 2018 campaign flyers as having a “history of hate,” rooted in his alleged involvement with a group that bombed an Elgin church in the early 1970s.
Now that a transcript of his 1975 grand jury testimony shows he previously admitted to being part of the organization, Brettman could be perjuring himself by denying any involvement with the extremist group.
On the other hand, admitting to his prior involvement could land Brettman in just as much trouble.
In May, Chicago attorney Natalie Harris asked Busch to dismiss the suit on the grounds that it violates Illinois’ anti-SLAPP law, intended to protect citizens’ First Amendment rights. If Brettman were to acknowledge his alleged involvement with a group called the Legion of Justice, he could be punished for abusing the judicial system by filing a retaliatory lawsuit.
“Your client can’t have it both ways,” Busch said at a hearing Friday. “He can’t sue for defamation and then hide potential evidence that would undermine his own claim.”
Brettman has alleged that unidentified “socialists” fabricated a copy of his grand jury testimony, the contents of which are now being used against him, Brettman claimed in a defamation lawsuit filed earlier this year.
In February, Brettman and fellow former County Board candidate Ersel Schuster filed a joint defamation lawsuit against an anonymous dark money group that distributed a series of campaign flyers before the March 2018 primary election.
The flyers, which depicted news article clippings from the Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, Elgin Daily Courier News and Northwest Herald, accused both Schuster and Brettman have having a “history of hate.”
The articles cited Brettman’s 1975 testimony before a Cook County grand jury.
Investigators used Brettman’s testimony to help determine whether Chicago police were involved in planning several burglaries of left-wing groups in cooperation with the Legion of Justice.
Brettman hasn’t denied speaking before the grand jury, but he has claimed that the transcript which resurfaced years later as part of an appeal is illegitimate.
Harris represents the flyers’ creators – an anonymous group known as the Illinois Integrity Fund.
In an attempt to show that the flyers’ allegations are true, she attached the transcript to her May 20 motion to dismiss Brettman’s defamation suit. Now he must answer to his own testimony, despite having claimed to not remember it well.
Harris has argued that the flyers can’t be defamatory if the allegations are true. To prove her point, the attorney demanded Brettman submit written answers to a list of questions regarding his 1975 testimony.
Although Brettman originally declined to answer several of the questions, claiming the answers either weren’t relevant or violated a court order against speaking about about his testimony, Kane County Judge Kevin Busch ruled Friday that Brettman must respond to the questions truthfully.
“I think everything in the transcript is fair game,” Busch said. “I think that they could go through his deposition line by line and say ‘Well, didn’t you say this?’ and ‘Didn’t you say that?’ ”
The case will pick back up Aug. 21 in McHenry County court.