Franks fined after refusing to disclose details about Illinois Integrity Fund

Friendly contempt order allows county board chairman to seek additional appeal

A judge on Tuesday found McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks in “friendly contempt” for refusing to identify a dark money source that funded a series of allegedly defamatory campaign mailers in 2018.

Kane County Judge Kevin Busch gave the order during a Zoom court call Tuesday morning, on the heels of a related Illinois 2nd District Appellate Court ruling. McHenry County Clerk and Recorder Joe Tirio has spent more than a year trying to identify the fund operators in an attempt to sue them for defamation.

Originally, Tirio asked to have Franks jailed for refusing to comply with previous court orders requiring the chairman to disclose information about the Illinois Integrity Fund. Busch instead chose to fine Franks $100 each day he doesn’t reveal the names of anyone Franks might know to be involved with the Integrity Fund. In the meantime, Franks and his attorney, Chicago-based Natalie Harris, will have a chance to appeal the contempt order and the accompanying fine.

Franks could not be reached for comment Tuesday evening.

In similar cases, a refusal to comply with an order to disclose information has been used as a means to get the case into the appellate court, according to the Illinois Association of Defense Trial Counsel. The person in contempt then can appeal the decision and potentially have the case reviewed by a higher court, according to the association.

Tirio’s pursuit to unveil the Illinois Integrity Fund dates back to April 2018, shortly after the flyers circulated throughout McHenry County. The anonymous organization is responsible for campaign material that was distributed before the March 2018 primary election. The flyers accused Tirio of keeping a “slush fund,” making patronage hires, and taking a vacation on taxpayers’ dime – allegations Tirio has long denied.

“I think it’s worth it, because look at the world we live in today. ‘Fake news,’ slander and libel, and I’m fortunate I’m able to defend myself, but I will for the rest of my life have to explain to people what was going on behind those mailers,” Tirio said after court Tuesday. “The internet doesn’t forget and it’s important for my reputation to set the records straight.”

Facing jail time for contempt of court in December 2018, the owner of a Chicago company that printed the flyers named Franks as one of the people who might have information about the anonymous group. About a year later, Kane County Judge Kevin Busch ordered Harris in December 2019 to have her clients disclose further information about the Illinois Integrity Fund. He similarly ruled in February that under Illinois election law, whoever's behind the Illinois Integrity Fund waived their right to anonymity when they funded the campaign material.

Although Harris appealed the judge’s February ruling, the Illinois Second District Appellate Court affirmed Busch’s decision Monday. Harris intends to address the matter a second time in her appeal of Franks’ friendly contempt order, she said.

As of Tuesday, the Illinois Supreme Court’s ruling on a separate appeal questioning whether the flyers were defamatory was still under review.