(CN) – A former high school basketball coach failed to convince an Illinois appeals court that the state’s anti-SLAPP law is unconstitutional and should not have been used to dismiss his defamation case against a group unhappy with his coaching.
Steve Sandholm was the head coach at Dixon High School and later became athletic director. A group that later became known as the Save Dixon Sports Committee came together to complain to the principal, superintendent and school board about Sandholm’s coaching style and performance.
Sandholm finally lost his job after his tenth season in 2008. He sued the committee for defamation in a 25-count complaint, citing an article written on the committee’s website that called him an abusive coach who bullied and humiliated his players.
Committee members also took their complaints to the airwaves, leveling similar accusations against Sandholm on WIXN-AM radio.
Sandholm also complained about a letter the committee sent to a school board member, taking the coach to task for his “criticizing to the point of abuse, demands bordering on slavery, [and] serious void of true citizenship.”
Committee members successfully moved to dismiss, arguing that they were protected by the Anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) Act.
Sandholm appealed, arguing that Illinois’ anti-SLAPP law is unconstitutional, depriving him of his due process and equal protection rights.
The 2nd District Court of Appeals in Elgin, Ill., ruled that Sandholm did not properly support his constitutional argument, and that the defendants had a right to voice their concerns about Sandholm.
“After a school board meeting that did not end in favorable result for defendants, defendants sought to gain more support through a website and speaking publicly,” Justice John Bowman wrote.
“This is part of the process of influencing the government to make a decision in a petitioner’s favor. Defendants had a right to participate in this process.”