Public’s right to know and speak affirmed

This ordeal is over. The libel case of “DONALD B. JOHANNES, Plaintiff, vs. JEFFREY P. HAVENS, THE ROCK RIVER TIMES, INC., an Illinois Corporation, and FRANK SCHIER, Defendants,” has been “dismissed with prejudice” by Judge Janet Holmgren, before it went to trial. Essentially, Mr. Johannes’ premises for his case were deemed incorrect. He asked for in excess of $100,000 in damages.

Our attorneys did a fine job of defending the First Amendment, especially since this was their first foray into that field of law. Attorney Larry Morrissey admirably performed the extensive research work and excellent written and oral arguments. Attorney Peter Alexander augmented those arguments at just the right time and in the right way. We are blessed to have such talented professionals as our legal representatives and friends.

Judge Holmgren’s order succinctly reaffirmed the right of the press to continue to question public officials in a responsible manner, which this paper did.

More and more on the national, state and local level, public officials think they are our masters, rather than public servants, paid by the taxpayer and accountable to the taxpayer. Their rising attitude broadcasts, “How dare you peons irritate us?” The public’s right to know and speak must withstand all these attempts at intimidation by any oligarchical network, whose arrogance threatens our way of life. The press must stand up and reassert its role as the Fourth Estate; individually, we all must resist the corporate mindlock and muzzle. The Rock River Times is proud to fight for everyone’s rights and will continue to do so according to and for the best standards.

Mr. Donald Johannes was Dr. Roland Chapdelaine’s friend and former board member. Rock Valley College’s Board of Trustees’ termination of Chapdelaine as president was finally absolutely correct. Those who acclaimed Chapdelaine’s “vision” were blind to the massive staff and faculty “no confidence” votes, the $61.8 million in debt, the $7.3 million in deficit spending, the near loss of RVC’s state recognition and Chapdelaine’s more-than-questionable behavior from his interview process to his use of college funds. Those who consider such things “vision” better have their own eyes and sense of public stewardship examined.

Through extensive and tireless research performed with great courage at great personal costs, our reporter Mr. Jeff Havens uncovered these financial overextensions and abuses of power. As an alumnus of RVC and as an editor, I am very proud of him. RVC owes him a debt of gratitude. I am grateful for the strong support of this paper’s staff and readers.

The libel lawsuit was filed against this paper about halfway through the Chapdelaine controversy. Many people asked, “Are you going to back off on your articles on RVC now?”

The answer to that question is that series of articles continued, and Chapdelaine is no longer the president of RVC.

I only met Dr. Chapdelaine once, when he first arrived in town in his role as a guest presenter at the RAMI awards ceremony. He was very pleasant, and we were pleased he was gracious enough to honor our local musicians.

I have never met Mr. Donald Johannes.

I and all the staff at this paper wish both of them the best in the future.

However, public figures will be asked questions in the future, and they will be asked to explain any questionable activities. In other words, this paper will continue to question public officials and accurately and fairly report their replies, as we did in the Johannes case.

Accordingly, the future seems bright for this paper, especially after this test, which was prolonged. My colleagues in the media tell me it’s a badge of honor to be sued for libel; “you know you are doing your job,” they say. “Now you’re in the lawbooks.”

Many more tests are ahead (hopefully not of the lawsuit nature); and surely, the staff of this paper has the good sense, standards and mettle to meet them.

This test was expensive on many levels, but those costs were nothing compared with the loss of any of our freedoms. The public’s right to know and question through free speech gleam among the most precious rights we have in this country. The Rock River Times proudly defends and exercises those freedoms. The legal system did the job it was designed to do—determine facts fairly. Nothing we printed in the article in question was untrue, or malicious or reckless. Again, we stand by the story.

An eastern European proverb says, “ Tell the truth and run!” Our readers here in the Midwest of the United States of America and those on the World Wide Web, can rest assured facts and truths will continue in these pages. The only things that run in this paper are the wonderful Rock River in our masthead and the flow of ink our great advertisers and readers provide.

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