Case against TRRT dismissed

• Judge gives former Rock Valley College trustee 28 days to re-file amended complaint

A defamation lawsuit against The Rock River Times filed by former Rock Valley College (RVC) Board of Trustees Member Don Johannes was dismissed by Circuit Judge Janet Holmgren Jan. 22.

Holmgren ruled that the plaintiff failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted and allowed the plaintiff to re-file an amended complaint within 28 days. Holmgren also ruled that a motion to dismiss the case entirely “with prejudice” may be ruled on at a later date if the plaintiff has re-filed his complaint.

Attorney Cary R. Rosenthal, who is representing Johannes, argued in proceedings that Johannes “is not used to this [the questioning of his performance as an RVC board of trustees member by the media] and the reason he’s not used to this is because he hasn’t done anything wrong. … We haven’t had the opportunity to argue the case. He’s entitled to his day in court.”

In response, Larry Morrissey, the defendant’s attorney, said: “Mr. Johannes may feel hurt, he may feel wronged. But that is not the issue here. We don’t even get a statement of what is false. … There’s just statements reprinting public statements. So putting all that together, you’ve got a bunch of truthful statements, and that’s all you’ve got.”

Holmgren ruled: “At this juncture, the way the pleading is laid out, it does not satisfy me. It’s the plaintiff’s burden to plead, and I will grant the motion [to dismiss] and give you [Johannes] another opportunity.”

Proceedings were delayed an hour Jan. 22 after Rosenthal arrived at the courthouse about 35 minutes after the scheduled 1:30 p.m. hearing. His office is in Chicago.

The lawsuit against The Rock River Times, Editor & Publisher Frank Schier, and Staff Writer Jeff Havens alleging defamation was filed June 5, 2003. The lawsuit pertains to an April 23-29, 2003, article in The Rock River Times that detailed insurance packages RVC purchased from Chicago’s Rabjohns Financial Group. The article was part of a series on RVC’s leadership.

Johannes, a local insurance agent who served on RVC’s board of trustees from 1985 to 2003, is seeking damages in excess of $100,000, plus attorney’s fees, costs of suit and punitive damages.

The case is scheduled for status at 9 a.m., March 18 at the Winnebago County Courthouse.

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