A jury found former Village of North Riverside Mayor Ken Krochmal guilty of making defamatory statements about police union president Frank Schmalz during the 2013 election. The jury returned its verdict after a two-week trial in federal court. Jeff and his law firm represent Schmalz.
The jury awarded Schmalz $450,000 in damages and assessed $150,000 in punitive damages against Mayor Krochmal for the false statements he made about Schmalz at the Village Commons polling place on election day. The jury’s decisive verdict reinstates Schmalz’s excellent reputation of 28 years of loyal public service for the residents of North Riverside and stands as a resounding condemnation of Mayor Krochmal’s reprehensible conduct.
The hard-earned reputation of an employee can vanish in a snap when someone in a position of power spreads falsehoods about them. Lies spread fast and far. The damage from such lies can take years to rectify in court.
The dispute started in 2012 when a slate of candidates called the Transparency and Accountability in Politics (TAP) party ran for office in the 2013 election. TAP party candidates were trying to seize power from the Voters Improvement Party (VIP) candidates who have held power in North Riverside for decades.
Village of North Riverside Mayor and VIP Party Chairman Ken Krochmal was not running for re-election. The VIP party candidate for Mayor was Hugh Hermanek. The TAP party candidate for Mayor was Rocco DeSantis, a former police officer for North Riverside. For the first time in decades, the VIP party faced a real threat to holding onto power in North Riverside.
At the time of the election, Schmalz was the president of the police union and a 28-year veteran police officer for North Riverside. Schmalz organized the police union to support DeSantis and the TAP party in the election. In the Spring of 2013, Schmalz and the TAP supporters met in the forest preserve before heading out into the community to campaign for the TAP party candidates.
On election day, Schmalz was at the Village Commons polling place greeting voters and informing them that the members of the police and fire unions supported the TAP party candidates in the election. Witnesses testified Mayor Krochmal was also at the at the Village Commons polling place on election day misinforming voters that the police and fire unions supported the VIP party candidates — an untrue statement that Schmalz repeatedly corrected.
According to various accounts, Mayor Krochmal became increasingly aggressive and threatening towards Schmalz throughout the day. Tensions boiled over when Mayor Krochmal falsely accused Schmalz of committing crimes in the forest preserve while he was working as a police officer. At the time Mayor Krochmal made the statement, the Village Commons was bustling with people campaigning and voting in the election.
During the trial, the evidence showed that Mayor Krochmal held a grudge against Schmalz for his support of the TAP party and for speaking out against the Mayor at a Village board meeting. In particular, at the January 2013 board meeting, Mayor Krochmal verbally berated DeSantis and his supporters by calling the police officers cowards. At the following board meeting, Schmalz spoke out in his role as the union president to take a stand against Mayor Krochmal’s attacks and to assure the residents that the police officers he represented were not cowards and did not hesitate to put themselves in danger to protect the community.
The lawsuit uncovered shocking misconduct by village officials. Prior to trial, the Court sanctioned Hermanek and the Chief of Police for destroying over 50 important text messages that should have been saved.
The jury also decided the new Chief of Police, appointed by the VIP-candidate Hermanek, did not retaliate against Schmalz in deciding on work assignments in the police department after the election.
The case was filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois and captioned as Frank Schmalz v. Village of North Riverside, et al., No 13 C 8012.
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Read more about the case here:
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