Suit against Grundy County State’s Attorney Jason Helland dismissed

Judge finds that Facebook page was maintained by a candidate for office; case is now moot since election has passed

MORRIS – A lawsuit filed in October against Grundy County State’s Attorney Jason Helland alleging that Helland violated a citizen’s First Amendment rights by banning him from a Facebook page has been dismissed.

The suit, brought by Robert Hendrickson of Morris, claimed that Helland violated Hendrickson’s First Amendment rights by blocking him from posting comments on the Jason Helland for Grundy County State’s Attorney Facebook page.

In his statement concerning the ruling, Judge Sheldon Sobol wrote that the defendant, Helland, argued that the issue is moot and that the Facebook page was maintained by Helland because at the time he was the Republican candidate for state’s attorney in past Nov. 3 general election.

It was alleged that the plaintiff, Hendrickson, “is a private citizen who has publicly and repeatedly criticized Jason Helland in his capacity as Grundy County State’s Attorney.”

The plaintiff alleged that “Jason Helland frequently posts on the Page about official business of the Grundy County State’s Attorney’s Office. ... The Page is a public forum under the First Amendment and the Illinois Constitution.”

Sobol said in his statement that an important component of his analysis of the case was that it was not alleged that the Facebook page was maintained by the Grundy County state’s attorney but by the candidate for that office, Helland, who happened to be the sitting state’s attorney. Sobol confirmed that detail at the hearing of the dismissal motion.

Sobol noted that the cause of action sought recovery pursuant to 42 U.S. Code Section 183, an enabling act that provides means to seek redress of deprivation of a constitutional right by an actor who is acting “under the color of state law.” He said that, in this case, Helland was acting as a candidate for state’s attorney and was maintaining the Facebook page for the purpose of the past general election. After the election, that page was shut down, as Helland no longer was running for state’s attorney because he had been reelected to the position.

“Defendant Helland claims the issue is now moot and has filed an affidavit in which he comments under oath that ‘If on some future date, Jason Helland as a politician creates a Facebook page seeking reelection for Grundy County State’s Attorney, I agree not to ban or block Robert Hendrickson or delete his posts.’ ”

Sobol said the court reviewed the Hendrickson’s complaint and found no allegation that the Facebook page at issue was being maintained by Helland as Grundy County state’s attorney or by the state’s attorney’s office. In fact, the court questioned Hendrickson’s attorney at the hearing if in fact the plaintiff alleged it was a website maintained by the candidate for the office (Helland) rather than the Grundy County State’s Attorney’s Office. The court was informed it was a Facebook page maintained by Helland as a candidate for the office of state’s attorney.

“The election for the position of state’s attorney has now passed and Mr. Helland prevailed,” Sobol said. “The purposes for which the Facebook page at issue was maintained was the Nov. 3, 2020, general election, not some future election. As such election has passed, the ability to comment upon any candidate, including Mr. Helland, and to inform the public, the electorate, of facts or opinions regarding that candidate so that a voter may make an informed decision when a vote is cast, has expired. The issue is moot.

“For the reasons stated herein, the motion of defendant Helland to dismiss this action is granted.”

Rob Oesterle

Rob has been a sports writer for the Morris Herald-News and Joliet Herald-News for more than 20 years. He is currently also writing news for the Morris Herald-News.