YORKVILLE – Dennis Hastert, who once held power as speaker of the U.S. House, and a man who accused him of child sexual abuse reached a tentative out-of-court settlement Wednesday over the former lawmaker’s refusal to pay $1.8 million in exchange for his silence, lawyers for both men said.
After the Wednesday court hearing, attorneys for both the plaintiff and Hastert declined to provide any settlement details — including whether Hastert agreed to pay the man and, if so, how much — in the case, which was set to go to trial next week in Kendall County Court.
Asked if the resolution of the civil case was a coda on a long, arduous journey for her client, plaintiff attorney Kristi Browne told reporters outside court: “It’s never over for a victim of childhood sexual abuse. ...It impacts them for the rest of their lives.”
The sides planned to hammer out a written agreement over the next several days and notify Kendall County Chief Judge Robert Pilmer when it is completed, Browne said.
“Frankly, I was looking forward to the trial,” Browne said. “I would have loved to try this case. I think it was a good case. ...But this is a resolution my client is comfortable with.”
Browne declined to say whether the judge’s recent decision to make her client’s name public at trial entered into his decision to settle now.
According to Kendall County court documents, the case was pushed back “for presentation of a signed stipulation and order to dismiss” at an 11 a.m. Sept. 23 court hearing. Details of the settlement are expected to remain confidential and not be filed publicly in the courts system.
Typically, a judge would file an order to dismiss once they receive signed settlement agreements, confidential or not, from all parties and the documents are to the court’s satisfaction. The order to dismiss could be filed after a court hearing or could be filed beforehand if the judge receives all of the documents they would need to just file the order.
Hastert’s accuser has been referred to only as James Doe in court papers since the breach of contract lawsuit was filed in 2016. He alleged Hastert paid him only about half of the promised $3.5 million in hush money.
After five years in court, a Kendall County judge last week ruled the real name of the man who accused Hastert of the sexual abuse, known as James Doe, would become public at the start of the upcoming jury trial for a $1.8 million breach-of-contract lawsuit against the former speaker.
The trial was originally scheduled to start Monday, Sept. 20, but Kendall County Chief Judge Robert Pilmer struck the jury trial dates, according to court documents.
Ellis said in court Sept. 9 he was in favor of Doe’s real name becoming public because he believes keeping the case name James Doe v. John Dennis Hastert “prejudices the defendant.”
“Because it makes it seem like this is a case where some question of abuse or misconduct is the question that needs to be determined by the jury,” Ellis said. “This is a breach of contract case. The plaintiff is going to appear in open court. He’s going to be photographed and videotaped. ... and [the news media covering this case] already know who he is.”
Browne said at the time that it’s true some people in news media know his identity, but the general news reporting ethics policy is that, “without that name becoming public and without the permission of the victim, they don’t publish it.”
“So it’s my understanding that, unless it gets published in his courtroom, they won’t publish his name,” Browne said.
Browne’s comments came after certain court documents, including a deposition from Hastert, which were supposed to be under seal, were filed unredacted and briefly made available publicly within Kendall County court records, according to lawyers in the case and court officials. The documents originally were filed under seal but appeared to have been accidentally unsealed by circuit court clerk office employees, Pilmer said in a court hearing for the case about two years ago.
Pilmer said the “particular circumstances of the case,” including the civil lawsuit revolving around the question of whether a breach of contract occurred and not explicitly whether Hastert abused Doe, are different this time around.
“I think, as we begin the jury trial, it would not be appropriate to continue to identify the plaintiff under his pseudonym,” Pilmer said.
After the Sept. 9 hearing, Browne said that Pilmer’s ruling “doesn’t change that we intend to go forward with the trial.”
Ellis declined to comment after the hearing on whether Hastert was expected to be physically present at the jury trial and whether Hastert was expected to be called to testify as a witness in the trial. However, Hastert was listed as a potential witness for his and Doe’s counsel, according to court records.
The case stems from an alleged $3.5 million in hush money Hastert agreed to pay Doe in a confidentiality agreement. Doe, a former wrestler at Yorkville High School, accused the former Republican U.S. Speaker of the House of sexually abusing him while Hastert was a teacher and wrestling coach at the school.
Doe was suing Hastert for the remaining $1.8 million of the hush money, plus interest. Hastert allegedly paid Doe $1.7 million between 2010 and 2014, according to court documents.
Hastert also was countersuing Doe for the amount already paid, alleging that Doe violated their confidentiality agreement.
During a March 13, 2020, hearing, Pilmer heard three dozen motions in limine from Browne and Ellis to determine what information can be included during the trial. It followed Pilmer overruling objections from Browne in allowing Hastert’s counsel to pursue the out-of-state witnesses during a March 2, 2020, hearing.
Hastert served as a U.S. Congressman from 1987 to 2007 and was House speaker between 1999 and 2007, the longest term of any Republican to date.
Hastert previously served 13 months in federal prison for banking violations related to the hush money scheme and was released in 2017. The former speaker currently lives in Kendall County.
The civil case in Kendall County has been in court since April 2016.
The Associated Press’ Michael Tarm contributed to this story.