A years-long legal battle involving a group of Orland Park residents, a New Jersey blogger and an Orland Park library employee who each accused those on the other side of spreading lies about them in an attempt to bring the other side to heel in a fight over library policy, has ended in Chicago’s federal courts, after a judge dismissed the library employee’s last attempt at continuing her lawsuit against the blogger.

On May 16, U.S. District Judge John J. Tharp Jr. dismissed the second amended complaint filed by Bridget Bittman, who, until recently, worked as the Orland Park Public Library’s public information director, against Dan Kleinman, a New Jersey-based blogger whose readers consider to be an expert on the subject of “Safe Libraries” policies to police the viewing of pornography on library computers and over library wireless networks.

The case first arose in 2014, when Bittman filed her first defamation lawsuit against Kleinman and Orland Park residents and local “Safe Libraries” activists Megan Fox and Kevin DuJan, among others, for using Facebook and other digital media to allegedly ruin her reputation amid a contentious dispute over the south suburban library’s internet filtering policies, which the activists said allowed library users to watch porn in the library when children were present.

The dispute escalated, resulting in a lawsuit brought by the activists against the library over alleged violations of governmental transparency laws. The library and the activists settled that case for $55,000.

However, the quarrel also became personal between the residents and Bittman. In July 2014, Kleinman purportedly posted to his blog an item headlined “Bridget Bittman commits Disorderly Conduct/Breach of Peace on 7/8/14,” which included a video of a verbal altercation outside the library involving Bittman, a library trustee and Fox, Dujan and another in their group. The blog post included allegedly defamatory captions. Later, the residents and activists claimed Bittman and the library trustee also directed allegedly anti-gay and homophobic statements and slurs at Dujan. Bittman has consistently denied this accusation, grouping it among the alleged falsehoods spread by the activists.

According to Tharp, the video clip supplied by the activists is inconclusive on whose account of the incident is correct.

However, the judge said “the entire incident … could have been avoided entirely if either side had behaved maturely and gone about their business rather than provoking the opposing group. Instead, several of the antagonists – specifically, Bittman, Fox and Dujan, engaged in almost three years of litigation…”

In June 2015, Fox responded to Bittman’s lawsuit with a defamation counterclaim of her own, claiming Bittman had also spread lies about her and her compatriots.

Throughout the process, the judges on the case had encouraged the two sides to end the dispute in a settlement, and in March 2016, Tharp signed off on an agreement between Bittman and the activists, ending the litigation under a non-financial settlement, with both sides paying their own costs.

However, Bittman still attempted to sue Kleinman, filing an amended complaint for defamation against the blogger for allegedly targeting her.

The judge, though, said he wouldn’t allow Bittman to proceed against Kleinman, because the blogger had no connection to Illinois, and, while an activist, did not personally target Bittman or the Orland Park Library.

“From the links provided in Bittman’s (Second Amended Complaint), it appears that Kleinman’s target audience is an echo chamber of fellow critics of the American Library Association’s open-Internet policies, not any particular regional constituency,” Tharp said.

Allowing Bittman to continue to sue Kleinman in Chicago federal court would “offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.”

Tharp did not dismiss the complaint with prejudice, leaving the door open for Bittman to reintroduce her complaint against Kleinman in New Jersey or some other forum “that may property assert jurisdiction” over the blogger. But the judge said he would not allow Bittman to replead her case against Kleinman in Chicago federal court.

“The burden of compelling (Kleinman) to defend a lawsuit from across the country outweighs other interests, given the tenuous connection between Kleinman’s allegedly tortious conduct and (Illinois),” Tharp wrote.

Fox and Dujan were represented in the action by attorneys with the firm of Kirkland & Ellis, of Chicago, while Kleinman was represented by the firm of Hart McLaughlin & Eldridge, also of Chicago.

Bittman was represented by the firms of Gordon & Rees; the Mudd Law Offices; and Kozacky Weitzel McGrath, each of Chicago.

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Organizations in this Story

Gordon Rees Scully Mansukhani, LLP Hart McLaughlin & Eldridge Kirkland & Ellis LLP Kozacky and Weitzel, P.C. Mudd Law Offices

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