MORRIS – A Morris man alleging that Grundy County State's Attorney Jason Helland violated his First Amendment right to free speech has sued the county's top prosecutor.
The suit was filed with the Grundy County Circuit Clerk's office Oct. 20, and a hearing took place Monday.
The lawsuit brought by Robert Hendrickson alleged that Helland blocked Hendrickson from commenting on Helland's Facebook page after Hendrickson posted comments critical of Helland's performance as state's attorney. Hendrickson is seeking a declaratory judgment, temporary restraining order, preliminary injunction and permanent injunction.
During Monday's hearing, Judge Robert Marsaglia said the case involves "a novel legal issue," that he would not issue a temporary restraining order by affidavit and that he wanted to hear testimony. The hearing for the testimony will be noon Wednesday.
Hendrickson's attorney, Robert Geiger, pointed out that Facebook forums have become a new assembly point for public discussion, especially in the age of COVID-19, and that although the alleged incident of Hendrickson being banned took place in June 2019, the emergency that necessitates a temporary restraining order is that Hendrickson's First Amendment rights are being violated.
Helland's attorneys said they plan to enter a motion to dismiss the case based on the fact that Helland has blocked all people from posting on the page, not just Hendrickson. Geiger countered by saying there was a third-party post on Helland's page as recently as Sunday.
According to the suit, "This case is about the right to criticize a public official in an online public forum without being censored. Plaintiff [Hendrickson] is a private person who has publicly and repeatedly criticized Jason Helland in his capacity as Grundy County State's Attorney. Jason Helland deleted Plaintiff's comments from his official 'Jason Helland: Republican for Grundy State's Attorney' page [the 'Page']. In doing so, Jason Helland censored and continues to censor Plaintiff's voice during a critical time of public debate in Grundy County about the policies of his office and his reelection to the office of Grundy County State's Attorney."
Hendrickson said he posted a comment on Helland's Facebook page asking about the maintenance costs for Helland's vehicle. Hendrickson said he wanted to know if public taxpayer money was being spent to maintain what amounts to a campaign vehicle for Helland, as the vehicle is painted with advertisements for Helland.
The suit continues, "In mid-to-late June 2019 [approximately June 23, 2019], the Plaintiff posted one or more comments critical of Jason Helland as Grundy County State's Attorney on the Page criticizing the financial oversight of the GCSAO [Grundy County State's Attorney's Office]. Jason Helland deleted the Plaintiff's comments from the Page and banned the Plaintiff from making any further posts or comments on the Page. In addition, other comments of the Plaintiff, prior to June 2019, were also deleted by Jason Helland."
When contacted about the suit, Helland had no comment.