Rockford Blacktop loses libel case

For more than three years, Dean Ekberg, president of Ekberg Material Inc., fought a libel suit that was filed against him in 2000 by one of the area’s most powerful companies—Rockford Blacktop Construction Company. Ekberg prevailed last week when a jury ruled in his favor.

Rockford Blacktop had sought more than $50,000 in damages.

The controversy began when Ekberg was interviewed by WNTA-1330-AM radio’s former talk show host Suzanne Lee in August 2000 about alleged vandalism on his property. Rockford Blacktop alleged that when Ekberg said the words “RBT” during the interview, the company’s reputation was harmed because people could associate their company with the incident.

In an Aug. 30, 2000, memorandum to employees, Rockford Blacktop Officer and Director Charles J. Howard of Machesney Park wrote: “No person has the right to make false statements about another. The jury system is designed to bring false accusers to task. Rockford Blacktop has decided to file suit against Dean Ekberg to obtain redress for the wrong and not to let such conduct pass without the false accuser being held accountable.”

During Howard’s deposition in the case, he responded to a question about whether the company lost any business as a result of the broadcast. Howard said, “Not specifically, no.”

Rockford attorney Thomas D. Luchetti, who represented Rockford Blacktop, did not return a message for comment. Luchetti has also represented the Rockford Register Star in similar cases, and was hired by Winnebago County State’s Attorney Paul Logli to represent Winnebago County Board member Patti Thayer (R-9) in an ongoing defamation lawsuit that was filed against her last March.

WNTA was dropped as a co-defendant in the lawsuit before the case went to trial.

The jury found there was insufficient evidence to support Rockford Blacktop’s complaint against Ekberg. The company can appeal the ruling to the appellate court in Elgin.

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