Tio Hardiman — an unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate and former director of the antiviolence organization CeaseFire — is seeking $12 million in damages from WFLD-Channel 32 in a lawsuit claiming he was defamed in broadcast and Internet stories.
The lawsuit centers on Jan. 16, 2014, stories about then-Gov. Pat Quinn abandoning an effort to knock Hardiman off the ballot for the Democratic gubernatorial primary held last March.
Hardiman says a “tease” for a broadcast story falsely identified him as a “former gang member.” His lawsuit — filed in December — says a related story on the Internet incorrectly stated he was “convicted of domestic violence.” WFLD news political editor Mike Flannery, whose byline was on that story, declined to comment.
Attorneys for WFLD responded in a Feb. 6 court filing that Hardiman is a public figure. He can’t prove WFLD published false statements about him with “actual malice,” which he would have to do as a public figure, the filing said.
The broadcast was updated the same day to say that Hardiman denied he was ever a member of a gang, the WFLD filing noted.
Attorneys for the station said Hardiman made prior public statements describing his involvement in “illegal” and “gang-like” activities during his youth. The tease that he was a former gang member was “substantially true,” the station’s filing added.
WFLD’s attorneys also said the station correctly reported Hardiman pleaded guilty and was convicted of a misdemeanor domestic violence charge in 1999. The fact that the case was expunged in 2013 doesn’t mean it never happened, the station’s lawyers said.
But Hardiman insists he was never convicted of a crime.
He says under state law, a defendant can plead guilty to a misdemeanor — and if a judge believes court supervision is proper — the judge can take the guilty plea under advisement and not enter it as a conviction. Once the supervision is completed successfully, the judge will enter an order dismissing the charges, which happened in his case, Hardiman said.
He claims WFLD’s alleged defamatory statements siphoned potential votes from his candidacy and caused him distress. In the Democratic primary on March 18, Quinn commanded 72 percent of the vote to Hardiman’s 28 percent. Republican Bruce Rauner then defeated Quinn in the general election in November.