Excerpts from the ChicagoTribune.com:
Thousands of web searches for pornography were found on four Country Club Hills Fire Department computers, according to testimony from a forensic expert.
Andrew Garrett — who performed the imaging Jan. 26 on behalf of Dena Lewis-Bystrzycki, a female firefighter involved in a lawsuit against Country Club Hills — testified last month to the presence of porn on the devices.
“There’s thousands of web searches for pornography. It’s all over the board,” Garrett testified Feb. 8, according to court transcripts. “It appears that they’ve wiped the hard drives, reloaded them, and I gave [Dana Kurtz, Lewis-Bystrzycki’s lawyer] three dates in which that was completely done.
“The problem was, once the computers were hooked back up, the servers pushed down profiles that had information of the previous web history and the searching of pornography.”
Lewis-Bystrzycki, a member of the department since 1998, alleges firefighters sexually harassed her and treated her in a hostile manner, engaged in gender discrimination when she came up for a promotion, retaliated against her for reporting misbehavior and regularly watched pornography at the station.
On Aug. 31, 2016, after concluding that a search of the department’s computers did not amount to a fishing expedition, a judge granted a motion ordering a forensic examination of the computers.
The examination occurred nearly five months after it was granted, and only after Judge Lynn Egan sanctioned the city for its failure to comply with the court-ordered computer imaging. Country Club Hills was ordered to reimburse the forensic expert for time and expenses related to the imaging as part of the sanctions.
After news of the sanctions was reported last month by a watchdog website but before results of the imaging were shared in court, the city’s lawyers filed an emergency motion for a protective order to stem the flow of information to the media.
They argue the gag order is necessary to prevent “irreparable, serious and imminent threats to Defendants’ rights to a fair trial,” according to court filings.
“It is expected — based on past pattern and practices — that plaintiff — through her counsel — will attempt to unjustly and purposefully influence the potential jury pool, so Defendants will be irreparably harmed by not getting a fair trial on the relevant, material and ultimately admissible evidence,” the city argued in its motion, citing a 2015 FOX 32 report about the lawsuit and the recent watchdog blog article.
Country Club Hills and its lawyers did not return requests for comment on the city’s recent motion for a gag order or on allegations made in Kurtz’s response that the city had destroyed evidence and was in contempt of a court order, and that firefighters regularly watched porn.
The city also asked the judge to allow it to screen any irrelevant or immaterial data found on the fire department’s computers, before they were passed along to Kurtz and Lewis-Bystryzycki, for fear it could be used as part of a smear campaign against the department.
Kurtz shot back with a response to the city’s motion, arguing that its allegations had no basis in fact and that the request for a gag order should be denied outright.
She had not been leaking information about the case to the news, Kurtz wrote, but rather the media had simply been reporting on publicly available court documents.
Her response to the gag order motion states that rather than focusing on the censure she received from a judge last year in an unrelated case, the city should really focus on their own conduct (or misconduct) in this case.
“Which,” her response continues, “has led to a default judgment being entered against them, them having to pay Plaintiffs’ attorneys fees for not answering the complaint in a timely manner and not responding, no less than 4 motions to compel and sanctions having to be filed by Plaintiff in this case, and almost all of them being granted.”
Kurtz also accused Country Club Hills of having “deliberately engaged in tactics to destroy evidence and commit spoliation.”
Despite the potential implications of Kurtz’s allegations, experienced Chicago trial lawyer Dan Kirschner said he thought it unlikely the case would be investigated by authorities.
His remedy in such situations, said Kirschner, a partner at Corboy & Demetrio who represents personal injury, wrongful death and medical malpractice complainants, is to bring it to the court’s attention and ask for a sanction, which could come in many forms, including jury instruction, striking any pleadings related to the issue or entering a default judgment.
Kurtz indicated in her Feb.15 response to Country Club Hills’ motion for a protective order that that would be the direction she would go. In it, she wrote that she intends to file motions of spoliation and contempt once Garrett finalizes his report on the computer imaging and releases it to her.
A hearing on the protective order requested by the city is scheduled for late next month.