If you thought you’d seen the last of the bizarre legal case pitting chief justice Bob Thomas of the Illinois Supreme Court against the tiny Kane Country Chronicle and columnist Bill Page — well, you have.
Unless you happen be watching public access cable channel 21 at 10:30 Tuesday night.
Thomas’s 2003 lawsuit — which I never tired of writing about — accused Page of libeling him in a series of Chronicle columns that accused Thomas of “political shimmy-shammy.” The suit’s perplexities came down to this: if the defendants lost, how could they appeal to a state supreme court run by the plaintiff who won?
And they lost. In 2006 a jury awarded Thomas $7 million, which the trial judge knocked down to $4 million. That’s when the real fun began. The Chronicle brought in First Amendment hotshot Bruce Sanford from Washington to lead the appeal, and he filed a federal suit against Thomas and the rest of the supreme court that claimed Thomas had “compromised the independence and the integrity of the Illinois judicial system from top to bottom.”
The two sides talked, and a year ago they agreed to cut the award to $3 million and call it a day.
But if you happen to tune to cable channel 21 you will see and hear a Jim Baltzer read from Sanford’s suit and other appeals documents with no preamble and for a straight hour. You’re sure to wonder what’s going on, and you’re almost as sure to switch channels long before Baltzer concludes.
He describes himself as an “astute, well-educated businessman” whose focus is promotions and marketing. The law is his “hobby.” It’s a hobby informed by various legal misadventures from his past he’s reluctant to talk about. A 2000 Tribune article that tried to sort out a perjury indictment that put Baltzer in the crosshairs of a DuPage County state’s attorney and a simultaneous civil rights lawsuit that put the same state’s attorney in Baltzer’s crosshairs called Baltzer, in his own mind, “a guerrilla leading a lonely struggle against one-party political dominance and cronyism” in DuPage County.
Which happens to be the county Thomas is from. Baltzer tells me that as a private citizen he filed a complaint with the state’s Judicial Inquiry Board that accused Thomas of ethics violations, and when that complaint went nowhere he decided to turn to the one forum left to him. Public access television.