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Jasper Co School Board facing Federal Civil Rights Lawsuit from Board Member –

NEWTON, IL. (ECWd) –

A Federal lawsuit has been filed in the United States District Court Southern District of Illinois naming the following as Defendants:

  • Board of Education of the Jasper County Community Unit School District Number 1
  • Andrew D. Johnson, Superintendent
  • Jon Fulton, President of the Board of Education
  • Gordon Millsap, Vice-President of the Board of Education
  • Holly Farley, Board Member
  • Mandy Rieman, Board Member
  • Melissa Stanley, Board Member
  • Rob Street, Board Member

UPDATE: Watch our video report on this and other Jasper County School Board issues (click here).

This Complaint was filed by Jerry L. Earnest, Member of the Board of Education of Jasper County Community Unit School District Number 1.

This is a Two-Count Complaint alleging that 1) Defendants deprived Earnest with Liberty Interest in his elected position as School Board Member, and 2) Complainant’s claim of Declaratory Relief

COUNT ONE states that the Superintendent and board notified Earnest that he would no longer have access to confidential board information (the same is given to other elected board members without question), did not provide any hearing process and thereby violated his due process, violated the rights of voters to have their elected representative be fully informed of matters he is required to vote on, and that Earnest has been irreparably harmed, embarrassed, humiliated, and suffered emotional disstress due to the actions of Superintendent Andrew Johnson and the Board of Education.

COUNT TWO asks for Declaratory Relief in that the issue is of substantial importance because it stripped, by governmental action, the rights of an elected official to perform his duties under the law, and stripped him of the liberty interest of his position as an elected official.

We have written about this situation in the past (here) and (here).

This situation comes out of a dispute between the School Superintendent and board members, with a fellow board member. From comments made at the Dec 18 board meeting, it is apparent this is nothing more than several board members’ attempts at punishing a fellow board member, even though there is no statutory authority for them to dole out any punishment whatsoever.


This is a problem across the State, certain elected officials think they are entitled to more information than other elected officials, they think they can punish other elected officials even though they do not possess the power to do so, and they think they can restrict access to records of the public body to only those people they deem worthy of that access. This type of scenario always fails, but it is repeated election cycle after election cycle. The costs of defending this lawsuit rest entirely with the Defendants for improper actions they have taken. A board member seeking to regain access to records has a statutory right to those records and should never be held at fault.

What these Defendants fail to realize, is that it is not the job to extract punishment or revenge of a fellow elected official. They cannot legally do it.

In a similar court case dealing with an elected official’s access to records of the public body, the Illinois Appellate Court has stated that: “It wasn’t up to one or the other of them to be the keepers of the conscience of all the other people or to impose extra-statutory requirements upon this exchange of information among public officials.” and “Elected officials are entitled to reasonable access to the books and records necessary to perform their function. That reasonable access cannot be doled out by the teaspoonful” (the Court explained unreasonable as being a phone call at 3 a.m. demanding access). The right of an elected official to examine the books and records is unequivocally “YES”  and that “the public has an interest in seeing that their elected official perform the functions they were elected to do” and that “Any limits [to records access] will be decided by the voters. If she abuses her office as trustee. . . I’m sure that is a matter that will be brought to the attention of the voters.”

The Appellate Court has also decided that an elected official did not have to use FOIA to obtain whatever records he or she was wishing to obtain. they could simply ask for those records, and they were to be provided them.

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9 replies »

  1. Where do these lawyers, and their clerks, associates, office staff, etc. go to school? Page 3, paragraph 9 states, “Jerry Earnest has took the time to…..”.

    No, Jerry Earnest has taken the time.. I know this is trivial, but if you can’t get the grammar correct, what else are you missing? If I was Attorney Greg Roosevelt, I would be ashamed that this document has my name on it.

  2. perhaps ensures the others won’t be re-elected either. electing stupid people to run our lives through their decisions is stupid.

  3. ECWd and jmkraft; Thanks for the information in this article pertaining to a ”court case dealing with an elected official’s access to records of the public body, the Illinois Appellate Court” .. This is the exact info that I have been trying to find because I have maintained that our Trustees in Chatham have the right to any information they need from the Village records without having to FOIA it.. Seems they don’t understand that and they would not believe me..
    Keep up the great work..
    Bob Judd / Chatham

  4. My prediction? The district successfully defends their position in court. I am relieved he is suing because this guarantees he won’t be re-elected.

    • That is your opinion. Our opinion is that it is already proven in court a board does not have the power or authority to do what this board is doing.

      • Does my comment really have to be witty? If so, you can delete it now!…hahaha j/k

        It’s Christmas break, and I have a lot of time on my hands. I don’t see an “About” link on the website, so I don’t really know what ECWd is about. It looks like y’all are looking to curb Government, especially Executive Branch, overreach at the state and local level. Does your political affiliation influence your goals? If so, what is your political affiliation? I lean toward the Libertarian side of the spectrum, so I appreciate where you are coming from.

        I’ve been watching this particular story develop for a while. I’m from Hidalgo, in Jasper Co and have family and friends there, although I have not lived there for a long time. I’ve seen a lot of FB posts over the last year or so. This is an unfortunate set of circumstances all around.

        First, I don’t think there is a Federal question here; as you so astutely cite Ebert v Thompson, that is an Illinois case and not a Federal case. The pleadings as filed do not appear to raise a Federal question and may very well be dismissed for that reason. That, however, will not prohibit the plaintiff from subsequently filing in IL court. But, that is a totally different conversation.

        That aside, the case may very well have merit. If the other Board members are truly denying him reasonable access certain information, in all forms, then the Board is likely overreaching its authority and inappropriately denying the plaintiff access to information he needs to perform the duties of his elected office and thereby silencing the voice of the voters. This point is accented by the fact the Board’s own policies do not expressly give them the power to enact the restrictions to information. Despite that victory, I think this case may well result in unintended consequences for the plaintiff.

        Let me disclaim my position with two assumptions: 1. The case goes to trial; and 2. The Newton Press Mentor article “Earnest Seeks Damages Against Board” dated 29 December 2017 is factually accurate as it pertains to the improperly disclosed information and the plaintiff’s response to the censure. To be successful in his case, Mr. Earnest will have to stipulate to the fact that he, at a minimum, negligently disclosed information protected by 105 ILCS 10 to an unauthorized recipient, just as he did in his response to the censure. His grievance is germane to this fact.

        Once that stipulation is made in court, it will provide the person whose information was unlawfully disclosed with irrefutable proof that the plaintiff violated IL law. 105 ILCS 10/9 prescribes both civil and criminal liability for the person who makes the unlawful disclosure, and civil liability to the Board. Therefore, if Mr. Earnest stipulates to the fact to which his claim is germane, then he will give the injured person irrefutable proof that he committed a criminal and tortious act. Subparagraph (c) even allows to Court to award costs and reasonable attorney’s fees to an injured party. Ultimately, this means that to pursue a victory for voters over Executive overreach will almost certainly cost the plaintiff greatly.

        Finally, down the logically fallacious slippery slope, once convicted of a crime, the Board will likely have the justification to remove the plaintiff from office in accordance with its policies. According to section 2:70 thereof, “elective office of a School Board member becomes vacant before the term’s expiration when any of the following occurs…5. Conviction…of any offense
        involving a violation of official oath.” According to section 2:80, the oath states in pertinent part “I, (Name), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully discharge the duties of the office of member of the Board of Education of Jasper County Community Unit School District No. 1, in accordance with the Constitution of the United States, the Constitution of the State of Illinois, and the laws of the State of Illinois, to the best of my ability.” Therefore, if the plaintiff is convicted of a crime under 105 ILCS 10/9, then he will have failed to uphold his oath, and subsequently vacated his position on the Board.

        Whew, what a mess for everyone! The plaintiff will have to finance his civil case against the Board, his criminal defense, his civil defense, and his vacation of his elected office. Yikes! If I were an attorney, and I’m not, and I were advising him, and I’m definitely not, I would recommend he either accept the illegal limitations placed on him or resign with a scathing resignation letter to be placed on the record. Even if he “wins” his case against the Board, he will likely lose a whole lot more.

        Either way, it’s none of my business and after tomorrow I won’t have near as much free time. Thanks for the stories, and the videos. Best of luck to you all and happy new year!

        • Melvin — thank you for your well researched and thought out post. I believe the ECW are conservatives, as am I. Think of them as Judicial Watch, only on a much smaller scale, and with a much more fervent bias that skews some of their article writing.

          Your delve into the ILCS Records Act spotlights one thing that John & Kirk have refused to research, acknowledge or condemn — the fact that Jed disclosed a complaint, which had sensitive information about a child, including his mental health status, decline in grade point average, and full name, to members of the general public. JED EARNEST BROKE THE LAW. Period. Did the board break the law? Maybe. And the court will sort that out. BUT A PUBLICLY ELECTED OFFICIAL BROKE A LAW FIRST. And for being a watchdog that claims to be about holding elected officials accountable for violating laws, they only seem to care about the board breaking the law and not Jed, which to me, destroys what credibility they had built by uncovering some other publicly elected officials elsewhere in the state doing illegal things. They’ve done some good work, some well researched work. They are dead wrong to only cover one side of this, and its an epic disappointment to many.

          I’ve followed their work for awhile, and they will never acknowledge when they are incorrect. Once the “underdog”, the put-upon average citizen that has been screwed over by “corrupt local government” has sold them their side of the story, that’s the end of it. There is no opportunity or time to collect facts and get an unbiased article and what really is going on. Look no further than the cumberland county JFL Pizza Hut article and the facebook comments on that thread. Judicial Watch they are not. Judicial Watch wouldn’t care who did or didn’t pay for the pizza. It’s petty bs that does not matter, and it stirred up needless drama while slandering the names of several who didn’t do anything wrong.

          Luckily for Jasper County, only around 30 people or so shared or liked these articles showcasing some good people that are absolutely at their wits end with Jed Earnest. Maybe not their finest hour, but they’ve been pushed to the very edge, and the ECW have no idea the shenanigans that have gone on to push them to that point. And to me, that is tragic. I believe the vast majority of Jasper County knows who the real problem is, and its not Holly Farley, nor Melissa Stanley, nor Andy Johnson.

          Thanks again for your well researched response. I am very excited to see the board defend this in court. I’m not sure about Ebert v. Thompson, but I have to wonder if that case also includes an official who broke a law before having access to records revoked. Something tells me the cases are not apples to apples, but you’ll never get John Kraft to see past that.

          • “SW” – you obviously have no idea of what you are talking about.
            – Let’s start with political ideologies – It does not matter what side of the isle anyone one is on when it comes to what we look at and publish. Your opinion starting with that discredits whatever else you may say.
            – You said we refused to research, acknowledge, or condemn the release of private information – Again, you are wrong. During my public comment, I suggested to the board that if they felt he violated a law then they need to direct their complaint to the State’s Attorney for his review.
            – You seem to be saying the first to break the law is always the worst? – This school board is engaging in felonious behavior by “taking action as a public official against anyone or anything, or withhold official action, or cause such action or withholding” – you can find that quote in the Illinois Criminal Code, 720 ILCS 5/12-6(a)(6) – Certain board members have participated in their own felonious actions by making false claims in a 911 call and to the police about what happened at a meeting
            – You state we never acknowledge when we are incorrect – please provide an example of where we were incorrect without acknowledging it
            – You try marginalizing the numbers of people reading the articles when you have absolutely no idea how many people read them. 30. LOL – Shows how out of touch you really are.
            – As far as the court case, the only thing on the table is the board’s wrongful actions against another board member. Period.

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