Heckinger deep in high-dollar cases

A pair of opposing lawsuits has former spouses demanding millions of dollars in damages. Plaintiff attorney in the alleged jail overcrowding lawsuits, John F. Heckinger Jr., has found himself at both ends of the squabble, with big bucks at stake.

April 13, Kathleen Mancuso filed a defamation suit against ex-husband Christopher Mancuso and Heckinger, his attorney. Ms. Mancuso alleges slander and libel against her have substantiated damages of no less than $500,000, plus legal costs and at least $1.5 million in punitive damages. Mancuso claims to have suffered emotional distress, increased stress, loss of income from missed time at work, as well as injury to her reputation.

The lawsuit alleges Mancuso’s ex-husband and Heckinger committed fraud, based on a letter written by Heckinger to the Veterans Administration regional director in Chicago. Ms. Mancuso alleges the letter—in which she’s accused of having committed fraud herself—contained false and defamatory statements.

The letter from Heckinger, dated April 13, 2006, reads in part: “My client [Christopher Mancuso] requested and received a complete copy of his records and thereby learned that on more than one occasion his ex-wife, Kathleen Mancuso…had fraudulently obtained my client’s records…which my client was in no way a party and did not authorize. Further, Kathleen Mancuso provided false and libelous statements about Christopher Mancuso to various VA offices.”

The lawsuit alleges similar letters were sent to the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs and the Office of the Attorney General’s Veterans Rights Bureau.

In May, Mr. Mancuso responded to the complaint, flatly denying his ex-wife’s charges of slander and libel. Mancuso claims nothing in Heckinger’s letter was false or defamatory. The letter is an exhibit attached to the lawsuit, but Heckinger and Mr. Mancuso argue the letter is a privileged communication related to his own lawsuit.

In July 2006, Mr. Mancuso filed a federal civil suit, in which his ex-wife is a defendant.

Mancuso and Heckinger entered a motion to dismiss Ms. Mancuso’s suit, arguing the letter in question is related to Mr. Mancuso’s pending federal case. The motion was continued to July 5.

Mr. Mancuso, a disabled veteran, filed his federal civil case in the Northern District Court of Illinois, claiming invasion of privacy under the Civil Rights Act. Mancuso argues his ex-wife should not have been granted access to his financial, military and medical records.

Mancuso’s federal lawsuit alleges the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs and the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) of the United States either provided privileged records to Ms. Mancuso, or assisted her in obtaining them. All three agencies, and Mancuso’s ex-wife, are defendants in the federal civil suit.

The lawsuit also alleges Ms. Mancuso fraudulently represented herself as a veteran, allegedly with the aid of her co-defendants, to transfer her ex-husband’s power of attorney to herself. In the federal civil suit, Ms. Mancuso is further alleged to have “used the fraudulently obtained power of attorney to libel the Plaintiff repeatedly while she was allegedly seeking apportionment of Plaintiff’s disability payments.”

Mancuso argues the agencies named as defendants should have known his ex-wife was not a veteran.

Mancuso’s federal lawsuit also alleges his ex-wife filed a claim on behalf of their emancipated adult son, misrepresenting his status.

Each of the five counts in the federal suit pray damages in the amount of at least $1 million plus costs. Two of the counts are against Mancuso’s ex-wife.

Mr. Mancuso and Heckinger are represented by Thomas E. Greenwald, and Ms. Mancuso is represented by K..O. Johnson.

Heckinger is no stranger to multi-million-dollar cases. Most notably, Heckinger and Greenwald are the two attorneys in the ongoing jail overcrowding lawsuit saga. Winnebago County settled the first jail lawsuit in 1997 with James Thomas. The second suit is still pending, with Timothy Chatmon as the lead plaintiff.

Feb. 14, Heckinger and Greenwald withdrew as Chatmon’s attorney in his personal injury case against Winnebago County. “They dumped me,” alleged Chatmon. “Last year, I filed a complaint with the ARDC [Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission] that they hadn’t done a good job, and at the hearing they said they were representing me, and then they dump me this year.” Federal Magistrate P. Michael Mahoney set the next hearing for that case for June 26.

Heckinger and Greenwald still represent Chatmon as the lead plaintiff in the federal class-action jail lawsuit. Assistant State’s Attorney Chuck Prorok said the new jail will open July 1, and the status of the lawsuit is up to the plaintiffs at that point.

In 2004, Heckinger was suspended from practicing law for 60 days after being charged by the ARDC with five counts of allegedly using his clients’ funds, in the amount of $12,634.92, for “his own business or personal purposes.” Heckinger was also charged with a count of allegedly commingling the funds of his clients and third parties in the amount of $199,044.34—also alleged to have been used for business and personal purposes.

As a result of the disciplinary action, Heckinger acknowledged the misconduct and promised to revise his bookkeeping procedures.

Heckinger, Greenwald and Johnson did not return calls for comment.

from the June 13-19, 2007, issue

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!