Proviso school board president drops defamation suit

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By SETH STERN

Proviso Board of Education President and 7th District State Rep. candidate Chris Welch and his brother Billy Welch both dropped their $1 million lawsuits against local internet blogger Carl Nyberg on Monday.

The two sued Nyberg, who also writes a monthly opinion column for the Review, in September claiming that he had defamed them on his Proviso Probe blog as well as in a letter he sent to Welch's boss at the law firm James J. Roche and Associates. Nyberg had also filed a complaint with the Attorney Registration and Discipline Commission (ARDC) alleging that Welch had created a conflict on interest when he voted with the school board to hire his brother Billy as a custodian at Proviso.

In November, Nyberg secured pro bono legal representation from the Chicago office of the international firm Latham and Watkins, LLP for the case. Both Chris and Billy Welch were represented by James J. Roche and Associates. The case, one of the first in which a blogger has been sued for defamation, was discussed on several national blogs and in publications including the Columbia Journalism Review.

"My priority at this time is to focus on my current position as District 209 School Board President and my campaign for 7th District State Representative. It is time to move on and focus on the future and the road that lies ahead," said Welch through a press release sent by Emily Robinson, his public relations manager for his state rep campaign.

Nyberg, however, has said that the battle is far from over, alleging that the suits were based on false information and filed in an attempt to harass him in response to his criticism of Welch.

Billy Welch's suit accused Nyberg of falsely stating on the blog that Billy Welch had been indicted on a drug related charge in 2003, and also stated that Nyberg had put Billy Welch's life at risk by speculating that he might have served as an informant.

Nyberg has provided the Review with a copy of the indictment of Billy Welch filed in Cook County Court to back up his claims. The charges against Welch were eventually dropped.

"What they did should be illegal … the Billy Welch lawsuit was based on information that was factually incorrect and they knew it was factually incorrectâ€"it was a form of harassment based on deliberately false statements," said Nyberg.

"I hope that the system will hold them accountable. If you don't have access to an attorney, for most Americans it would be financially impossible to fight this case aggressively. I was lucky to be able to find pro bono representation," he said.

Welch's lawsuit accused Nyberg of printing defamatory attacks on his blog, located at www.provisoprobe.blogspot.com, where he has often accused Welch of lying, cronyism and other unethical behaviors both before and since the suit was filed.

The letter to Welch's boss contained similar allegations, and accused Welch of using his position as board president to "build a political organization to the detriment of Proviso Township High Schools and taxpayers."

In his suit, Welch alleged that Nyberg has caused him embarrassment and damaged his reputation as an attorney and with his boss, James J. Roche. Welch said at the time that it was Roche who had advised him to file the lawsuits.

Welch has in the past filed a $75 million defamation suit against former Proviso school board president Michael Manzo as well as $5 million suit against two of his critics, Debbie Muhammad and Kenneth Leggin, during his last campaign for school board president.

Both of those suits were also dropped, leading the defendants to speculate that they were sued in attempts to stifle further criticism.

In his press release, Welch still refers to the Nyberg's remarks as "non-factual" and "defamatory."

"I hope Carl takes this blessing as an opportunity to examine his mode of operations and I wish him the best in his future endeavors," states the press release.

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