Free speech lawsuit against county OK’d for trial
A ruling just issued by Federal Judge Frederick J. Kapala will allow a First Amendment lawsuit to proceed to trial against Winnebago County and 13 individually-named defendants. The lawsuit was filed in February of 2011 by local citizen Michael Castronovo.
The original complaint included three “counts.” Count 1 was a taking of access rights, Count 2 was a group of First Amendment (free speech) violations, and Count 3 was a 14th Amendment (due process) violation. The court, prior to discovery, dismissed counts 1 and 3, though they may be subject to future appeal. The court has now found through discovery and a summary judgment process that enough material facts are in dispute to allow the lawsuit to go forward for jury trial. The key issues that survived summary judgment include multiple violations of Castronovo’s free speech rights at Winnebago County Board meetings and at Public Works committee meetings. The court has expressed their opinion that in both situations, First Amendment right to protected free speech is a factor.
Some of these violations may be related to the December 2008 change made to county ordinance 2-65 where “zoning items, personnel matters, or any pending or threatened litigation involving the County” became restricted topics for citizens at county board meetings. Also at issue may be any involvement by Winnebago County Highway Department officials, since Public Works meetings deal directly with roads and medians.
What makes this case unique is that Castronovo is not hiring a lawyer to represent him. For a number of reasons, Castronovo was unable to retain a lawyer and has represented himself as a “pro-se litigant” in this two-year lawsuit in federal court. Castronovo has stated, “Without the guidance of the federal court’s ‘coaching system,’ the support of my friends and the grace of God, I would not have been able to endure this battle and see it through to this point.”
The federal lawsuit is Case 11C 50046, the plaintiff is Michael Castronovo, and the named defendants are the County of Winnebago, and individuals: Scott Christiansen, Joseph Vanderwerff, Wayne Vlk, Pearl Hawks, Dave Fiduccia, Frank Gambino, Angie Goral, Kyle Logan, Kay Mullins, Tom Owens, Dianne Parvin, Steve Schultz and Dave Tassoni. The defendants are represented by Attorney William Emmert of the Winnebago County State’s Attorney’s Office. The next scheduled court hearing is Dec. 19, at 1:30 p.m. in the Federal Courthouse with Federal Magistrate Judge P. Michael Mahoney. Federal court hearings are open for public viewing.
The Rock River Times spoke with Assistant Deputy State’s Attorney William Emmert, who said they have no comment at this time. “It’s a pending case,” he said. “It is set for status on Dec. 19 in front of Magistrate Mahoney.”
From the Nov. 28-Dec. 4, 2012, issue
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