Chris Welch, of the District 209 school board, and his brother Bill Welch have each filed $1 million lawsuits charging defamation against local blogger Carl Nyberg in response to allegations made by Nyberg on his “Proviso Probe” web blog.
Nyberg is also a freelance opinion columnist for the Forest Park Review.
The suits, brought by Chris Welch’s law firm, James J. Roche and Associates, point to postings in which Nyberg calls Chris Welch a “liar” and implies that he is an unethical attorney. The suits also refer to postings in which Nyberg states that Bill Welch was indicted on criminal charges in 2003.
Nyberg also sent a letter to James J. Roche, Welch’s boss at the law firm, in which he stated that Welch “is using his position as president of the District 209 board to build a political organization to the detriment of Proviso Township High Schools and taxpayers.”
In the letter, dated August 30, Nyberg also asked whether Roche knew that Welch had represented his brother Bill in the 2003 criminal case.
Welch’s suit calls the letter “false and defamatory,” and states that it is “consistent with a pattern of harassment.” Welch told the Review that though Nyberg is entitled to his opinion, the letter crossed the line. He said that Roche himself advised him to sue.
The suit goes on to state that the letter was sent with “actual malice,” a standard the Supreme Court has ruled must be proven in defamation cases, especially when the person suing is a public figure. The suit alleges that Nyberg “knew the statements were false, or (the statements) were published with reckless disregard to their truth or falsity.”
Nyberg said he wrote the letter after contacting the law firm to ask whether they normally handled criminal cases. When he was told they did not, he said, he became suspicious that Welch had taken the case using the firm’s name without informing his boss.
Welch alleges political vendetta
Welch told the Review that friends have told him that Nyberg speaks regularly with Michael Manzo, a former District 209 board president who has been a vocal opponent of Welch’s policies. He speculated that Nyberg has a political vendetta against him.
Nyberg said that he has never spoken with Manzo.
“I don’t know who Carl Nyberg is other than that he does something for the Review if I’m not mistaken,” said Manzo.
Manzo said that Welch had sued him for $75 million in 2002 but the suit did not go anywhere. “My advice to Carl is not to be too concerned,” he said.
Nyberg said that his suspicion of Welch began after observing his conduct at a July board meeting, during which Welch and the Dist. 209 board majority voted to fire Supt. Gregory Jackson.
“He didn’t want to let people ask any questions let alone answer them…that raised my antennas of suspicion,” said Nyberg.
Nyberg also filed a complaint with the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC) of the Supreme Court of Illinois accusing Welch of violating two clauses of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct for attorneys, and posted his complaint on the blog.
Althea Welsh of the ARDC replied to Nyberg’s complaint in a letter dated Sept. 1 and stated that the ARDC would be conducting an inquiry into one of the violations alleged by Nyberg, that Welch had violated the clause that states that a lawyer holding public office should not use his office to influence a tribunal to act in favor of his client.
Welch, who defended his brother in the 2003 case, voted along with the majority of the District 209 Board of Education to hire his brother as a night custodian at Proviso West High School at a salary of over $46,000 on August 22.
In a response to Nyberg’s complaint addressed to Welch, Welch called Nyberg “out of control” and wrote that he could not have committed the violation alleged by Nyberg since his brother was no longer his client.
The damages that the suit against Nyberg alleges were sustained by Welch include a reduced level of credibility with his boss, damage to his reputation as an attorney, and emotional distress due to embarrassment.
Brother sues for invasion of privacy
Bill Welch’s suit stems from an August 24 blog post by Nyberg under the headline “Billy Welch Indicted for (criminal activity).” According to the suit, Welch was cleared of all wrongdoing in the case and was never indicted.
“Plaintiff Welch had never been indicted for the crime of drug dealing and had Nyberg checked the accuracy of his statements, this information would have been readily discoverable,” it states.
Nyberg, however, has provided the Review with documents filed Sept. 26, 2003 in the Circuit Court of Cook County naming both Billy Welch and Marco Thomas in an indictment for possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver.
While those records indicate that Bill Welch was, in fact, indicted, charges against him were later dropped. The States Attorney transferred prosecution of Thomas to the federal government.
The suit states that as a result of Nyberg’s postings, Bill Welch sustained damage to his reputation, emotional distress due to embarrassment, and damage to his ability to secure future employment.
Before being hired by District 209, Bill Welch was previously employed by Cook County Recorder of Deeds Eugene Moore, a close political associate of Chris Welch’s. Moore was hired as District 209’s Broker of Record for its insurance contract with Blue Cross Blue Shield at the same meeting.
In a second count alleging an invasion of privacy, Bill Welch’s suit accuses Nyberg of placing Welch in danger of violent retaliation by speculating that he was the informant that led to the arrest and prosecution of Thomas.
“My brother not being a public figure, for him to indicate the things he has indicated placed my brother at risk of harm to his life,” said Chris Welch.
The suit against Nyberg does not mark the first time Chris Welch has sued his critics for defamation. Earlier this year, he sued Debbie Muhammad and Kenneth Leggin for $5 million for statements regarding his character and his Feb. 7 firing as Bellwood School District 88’s attorney.
That suit stated that during a radio appearance, Muhammad said Welch had been fired for allegedly committing forgery.
Muhammad said that Welch eventually withdrew the suit against her, and suspected that he filed the suit because he knew her attorney would place a “gag order” on her once the suit had been filed.
“He basically wanted to shut the loud mouth people up,” she said.
Welch declined to comment on the past suit, but said he intends to fully press forward with the suit against Nyberg, and will bring further suits if necessary.
“I look forward to having this resolved and I think at the end of the day Chris Welch will regret having gone through this a hell of a lot more than I will,” said Nyberg.
Both lawsuits ask for damages in excess of $1 million in addition to punitive damages and legal fees.