Appeals panel: Sanctions mostly OK vs animal rights activist for revealing info about Doe defendant on Facebook

By Charmaine Little | Jul 20, 2018

ELGIN - A state appeals court has largely upheld a county court's decision to hold in contempt an animal rights activist for allegedly violating a court order to keep under wraps the identity of the owner of a so-called "puppy mill," but said the lower court judge needed to offer better instructions for how the activist could have the contempt sanctions lifted.

On July 10, the Illinois Second District Appellate Court ruled a judge in Winnebago County had the right to sanction  animal rights activist Kathy Mehalko, allegedly for revealing the identity of a woman she was suing over a Facebook post.

Mehalko challenged the circuit court's decision that imposed post-judgment sanctions on her. Mehalko argued the sanctions were invalid because the circuit court did not have the proper jurisdiction to impose them because the case was already closed.

In its ruling, the appeals court said the trial court did have jurisdiction.

Mehalko had filed a three-count defamation complaint against a number of defendants, claiming the defendants violated the Right of Publicity Act after pictures of her were allegedly posted on Facebook pages called "Opposing Voices of Kathy Mehalko Puppy Mill Agenda and Pet Owners Beware."

The contempt charge arose after Mehalko was told she could not reveal the identity of a Jane Doe defendant. However, Mehalko purportedly learned the Doe defendant's identity when she was allowed to attend a deposition of the defendant. After the deposition, the appellate court decision noted Mehalko never directly revealed the Jane Doe defendant's name, but used social media to release certain details about the Jane Doe defendant, such that others could potentially surmise her identity.

The appeals court said Mehalko tried to have the contempt order lifted, but the circuit court denied that request. The Jane Doe defendant claimed after Mehalko revealed her identity on Facebook, she began receiving online threats.

The trial court ordered Mehalko to take the posts concerning Jane Doe off of Facebook and awarded the Jane Doe defendant $7,329 in attorney's fees and costs.

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