2/26/2014 4:13:00 PM,
Jeff D. Gorman
(CN) - Police officers cannot lob defamation claims at the Chicago woman who accused them of conducting an Election Day "rent-a-cop scheme," an appeals court ruled.
Catherine Zaryczny made the accusations in a letter to then-Chicago Police Department superintendent Jody Weis, which contained an unsent letter addressed to Patrick Fitzgerald, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois.
Zaryczny wrote that she would not send the letter to Fitzgerald without allowing the Chicago police to investigate.
In the letter to Fitzgerald, Zaryczny alleged that an unnamed alderman candidate hired police officers to work for him in 2007. She said the officers were used as poll watchers and displayed "badges and bulges" on Election Day, in contravention of rules prohibiting police from participating in any Election Day activities where the presence of badges, guns or batons is evident in any district where they are assigned.
Dennis Mushol and seven other cops sued Zaryczny, claiming that she defamed them with her allegations. She countered that her complaints were protected by absolute privilege because they were made to law-enforcement officials for the purposes of prosecution.
A Cook County Circuit Court judge agreed with Zaryczny and dismissed the case.
The First District Appellate Court affirmed last week.
"We note that in her letter to Superintendent Weis, Zaryczny alleged criminal conduct and requested relief from numerous prosecutorial agencies," Justice Joy Cunningham wrote for three-person panel. "Accordingly, it can be clearly inferred that the made her allegations to Superintendent Weis for the purpose of instituting criminal proceedings against the plaintiffs."