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Judge orders Franks to pay attorney's fees, reduces sanctions tied to contempt finding

McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks has two weeks to deposit $2,100 with the county's circuit clerk's office in connection with a judge's May ruling finding Franks in indirect civil contempt.

Kane County Judge Kevin Busch found Franks in "friendly" contempt on May 19 for failure to disclose who funded a series of potentially defamatory flyers leading up to the March 2018 primary election. The flyers, which depicted McHenry County Clerk and Recorder Joe Tirio as a cartoon robber with a secret tax-payer funded slush fund, launched Tirio's two-year-long probe into the players responsible for the flyers, known only as the Illinois Integrity Fund.

Franks, who was identified during a December 2018 court hearing as potentially having information about the anonymous group, now must pay back the attorney fees Tirio incurred in preparation for the contempt request. Franks has one week to to pay the first $1,050, Busch said. The money will remain in the circuit clerk's possession while Franks' attorney, Chicago-based Natalie Harris, appeals the original contempt order. If she's successful, the money will be returned to Franks. Otherwise, it will serve as payment for Tirio's attorney, Philip Prossnitz, in preparing the May 19 request.

"I'm hoping Ms. Harris is going to explain to Mr. Franks that I'm through dicing this and I want the $2,100 deposited," Busch said in court Monday.

In addition to the contempt finding Franks was ordered to pay a $100 daily sanction until he disclosed whatever information he might have about the Illinois Integrity Fund. On Monday, however, Busch reduced that fine to $50, and temporarily paused the requirement until the Illinois Second District Appellate Court finalizes its review of Franks' appeal.

"We are certainly pleased that Judge Busch took the time to think about these issues and that in doing that, he recognized the importance of First Amendment protection of anonymous speech," Harris said. "We're also pleased that he acknowledged that the prior sanction he imposed was too severe."

In February, Busch determined that anyone associated with the Illinois Integrity Fund waived their First Amendment right to anonymity based on campaign disclosure requirements for expenditures exceeding $5,000.

"Here we know the Illinois Integrity Fund, whomever they are, spent in excess of $23,000 mailing out over 40,000 misleading and defamatory mailers to McHenry County voters," Prossnitz said in an email Monday. "The integrity of the American political process is at stake."

That issue remained on appeal with the Illinois Supreme Court Monday.

Attorneys will meet again for an Aug. 17 court appearance at the McHenry County courthouse in Woodstock.

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