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The Appellate Court of Illinois Second District this week in Sandholm v. Kuecker et al. (Case No. 08-L-19) affirmed the trial court's dismissal of a defamation and false light suit by a former high school basketball coach against a group of parents critical of his coaching style.
In a 49-page opinion, the appellate court upheld the lower court's rejection of the plaintiff's constitutional challenge of the state's anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) measure, the Illinois Citizen Participation Act ("ICPA") [735 Ill. Comp. Stat. 110], which the trial judge cited in throwing out the suit on the basis that it chilled free speech. Writing for the court, Justice John J. Bowman said the ICPA "provides a qualified privilege, granting more protection for speech than the common law provides, when the speech occurs in the exercise of the right to participate in government."
Sandholm coached the Dixon High School boys basketball team until the school board unanimously voted not to renew his contract in April 2008, in response to criticisms concerning his coaching style, which purportedly involved verbally abusing, discouraging and bullying team members.