Court rejects Drury defamation case against Proft, Neerhoff
A Cook County Circuit judge has dismissed a defamation and invasion of privacy complaint brought by Rep. Scott Drury (D-Highwood) against his opponent in the 2014 election and a conservative talk radio host and political activist, according to court documents.
The case stems from statements made in political ads prior to the election that said Drury supported a particular education bill. Drury sued Liberty Principles PAC and its president, "Chicago's Morning Answer" radio host Dan Proft, as well as Drury's Republican challenger, Dr. Mark Neerhof, and Neerhof’s campaign organization, which Drury alleged cooperated in the ads’ design and dissemination.
Proft is also president of Local Government Information Services, which owns this publication.
Drury’s original complaint included 18 allegations of defamation and invasion of privacy, of which eight were dismissed outright. The court also dismissed the other 10 counts on the grounds that Drury had not proved that the statements were made with malice, but allowed him to update his complaint in an attempt to do so.
The most recent decision from Cook County Circuit Judge Franklin Valderrama noted that Drury’s first amended complaint still does not adequately prove that the statements in the ads were made with malice and again dismissed the complaint. The judge left the door open for him to attempt to do so again in a second amended complaint.
Drury’s complaint arose from a cable television campaign ad and a mail advertisement published in early October 2014 by Liberty Principles and Proft, allegedly with the cooperation of Neerhof and his campaign committee. The ads suggested that Drury supported Senate Bill 16, an education funding reform bill that was under consideration in the General Assembly at the time.
Drury did not advocate for the bill, and it was never called for a vote. According to court records, he had expressed his opposition to it before the ads were released. Through later motions, Proft explained that he inferred Drury’s support because he was a Democrat, because of campaign contributions he had received and because he did not sign onto a House resolution opposing the bill.
Because Drury is a public figure, the statements made against him must have been made with malice to qualify as defamatory and an invasion of privacy. Proft and the other defendants must have knowingly made false statements or made the statements with a reckless disregard for their falsity.
In his first amended complaint, Drury argued that Proft and the others could easily have supported other inferences and that the statements were repeatedly made by the defendants, first in the cable advertisement, then in the mail advertisement and then later in a candidate forum.
“While Drury generally alleges that the facts upon which defendants relied … support other inferences, the court notes that Drury does not specifically identify what other inferences those facts support,” Valderrama wrote. "Importantly, Drury also does not allege or identify how any other inference that those facts support created substantial reason for defendants to doubt the truth of their inference that give rise to the allegedly defamatory statements.”
The judge also wrote that Drury’s amended complaint doesn’t establish that the defendants knew any facts that would show they were aware that their statements were false. He determined that there was nothing to suggest that Drury could not prove his defamation and invasion of privacy claims, and gave the lawmaker until Oct. 17 to submit a second amended complaint.
In a statement published by Capitol Fax, Proft noted that Drury voted in favor of the recently enacted education funding reform bill, which he called identical to the bill in question in the case.
“Drury claimed that statements made regarding his support (of) the Democrat school funding bill ... were false and defamatory,” Proft said, according to Capitol Fax. “In fact, they turned out to be both accurate and prescient. Remarkably, this year, Drury came out in support of an identical school funding bill.”