FOREST RIDGE, IL. (ECWd) -
Roxana Agler -- school board member in Forest Ridge Elementary District 142 in Oak Forest, Illinois -- has been caught in emails blatantly pushing for a SLAPP lawsuit to silence a reporter. As you know, a SLAPP is "strategic litigation against public participation" and is illegal in our state, per the Citizen Participation Act (CPA), which provides for sanctions against attorneys who file SLAPP lawsuits and compels people who initiate SLAPPs to cover all legal costs from such actions.
SLAPPs are meant to silence criticism, chill First Amendment-protected free speech, and frighten away critics of public bodies. SLAPPs are a weapon of "lawfare" that some public officials believe they can use to intimidate people, scare away public scrutiny, and make reporters afraid to cover their bad behavior. SLAPPs are the ultimate abuse of power for any elected official because they are so contrary to the American system of government (where public officials are public servants, not monarchs on thrones who cannot be criticized or called out for their bad behavior). This is not Turkey (nor a Park District in Clark County Illinois for that matter), where if a public official does not like how a reporter covers a news story the official can target the reporter for persecution using state resources. That is not how things work in America. Why don't people who run for elected office in Illinois understand that?
Roxana Agler's horrible behavior during board meetings has become a news story in the last week, ever since her bizarre antics at the 4/19/16 School Board meeting were caught on video by freelance reporter Megan Fox. Since then, Agler's strange and threatening emails and her history of making unsubstantiated police reports against her enemies have come to light through FOIA production.
Her latest abuses (released to the public by District-142 on 4/26/15) involve a flurry of emails showing that in the last week she has been feverishly pushing for District 142's lawyer, James Bartley of Klein Thorpe Jenkins, to target freelance reporter Megan Fox for a SLAPP lawsuit to silence her, scare her away, and punish her for covering the news story of Roxana Agler's behavior on the D-142 School Board.
The emails show the clearest attempt we have ever uncovered (with the exception of the Clark County park District) of an elected official openly and aggressively attempting to initiate a SLAPP lawsuit. Some highlights of what Roxana emailed to D-142 President Gerry Curran and Superintendent Paul McDermott include:
- Roxana Agler states directly: "I want Megan Fox sued for both (libel and slander) by our lawyer since I am a sitting board member."
- scolds McDermott for allowing Megan Fox to film the 4/19/16 school board meeting and post the video to YouTube. Clearly Agler has never read the Open Meetings Act (OMA), which states that all public meetings may be filmed by anyone and that public bodies may not in any way interfere with the filming of their meetings.
- asserts that McDermott should have demanded Fox's media credentials. It is actually illegal for any public body to demand media credentials as that would be a violation of First Amendment rights. The state of Illinois does not issue media credentials and the Constitution forbids the state from engaging in the issuing of media credentials.
- attempts to defame Fox by noting that Fox had been hit with a SLAPP lawsuit in the past, which Fox prevailed in when that SLAPP was dismissed. We covered that SLAPP extensively through its dismissal and feel it should be a cautionary tale heeded by elected officials such as Agler who believe SLAPPs are a good weapon to use against their perceived enemies. News flash: they're not. And public officials who file SLAPPs end up regretting it.
- states that her motivation in wanting to sue Megan Fox (a freelance reporter whose beat is covering government corruption and violations of our state's Open Meetings and FOIA laws) is to chill her free speech and discourage her from reporting on public matters. Agler writes, "Megan Fox is known to create problems everywhere she goes, hopefully, this may slow her roll, or it may not, but you can ask Bartley what he thinks." James Bartley is D-142's attorney and is from the law firm Klein Thorpe Jenkins. Agler appears to view a reporter covering the bad behavior and illegal actions of elected officials to be "creating problems." We view such reporting as a valuable public service that is a protected activity under our Constitution.
- continues: "I do not want to see this woman do this to anyone ever again." We interpret this as more clear evidence of an intended SLAPP, since Agler's goal in pushing for a lawsuit against Fox is apparently to cause Fox to stop reporting on bad board members such as Agler. That is the very definition of a SLAPP and the CPA does not allow for this.
- informs McDermott that he should have asked Megan Fox how she intended to use the video that she filmed on 4/19/16. No public body can ask a reporter how she intends to use video footage of a public meeting. Agler is ignorant and delusional if she believes that a public body has any ability to censor or control how a reporter covers a story about a public body.
- targets other people whom she believes may have tipped a reporter off that there was a news story to be told involving D-142. She lashes out at these people, saying that she wants them all to be sued too for spilling the beans and "gossiping." This appears to be a public official retaliating against perceived whistleblowers, which can be viewed as another act of intimidation.
- instructs McDermott to have Bartley from KTJ work with another law firm, Cooper and Storm, to file the SLAPP against Megan Fox. This is evidence of an elected official using her official board email address and position to instruct a D-142 employee to coordinate a SLAPP lawsuit intended to silence a reporter and chill Free Speech.
- believes that her emails are not allowed to be published, despite these emails being public documents obtained via the Freedom of Information Act. It appears that D-142 is sorely lacking in both FOIA and OMA training for its board members and that some board members themselves are sorely lacking in basic civics education.
- insists that James Bartley from Klein Thorpe Jenkins could have the videos that Agler does not like taken down. No public official who behaves badly in public can have video of their bad behavior taken down. No judge will ever order such video to be taken down. That is not how America works.
- claims that all criticism of her or reporting on her bad behavior is "bullying." This is a favorite tactic of hers that she employs regularly: if anyone speaks out against Roxana Agler's actions or behavior, Agler calls that person a "bully." She seems to believe that by doing that she will make herself immune to all criticism.
- ordered D-142 employees to "check with Bartley regarding the specifications regarding filming open meetings...she should not be allowed to edit the meeting...just film it." Again, the OMA does not allow a public body to have any control over the filming of public meetings. No public body can have any say in how a reporter covers a public meeting or how anyone at all films a public meeting.
- informs D-142 employees that her husband Troy Agler is helping her dig up links to things that she feels she can use against her perceived enemies.
- states to D-142 officials, "consider yourself being named in the coming suit and those public funds will have to be used then to defend yourselves."
- vows, "I will never ever resign! Have a nice day!"
Whether Roxana Agler ever intends to resign from the D-142 school board or not may appear to be a moot point, as there appears to be increasingly mounting evidence that Agler can (and should) be removed from the board for cause.
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