Will County judge rejects dismissing harassment charges under First Amendment grounds

Richard Gabrys

A judge chose not to dismiss charges against a man accused of harassing the Will County State’s Attorney and his staff at the request of defense attorneys who contended the case violated his client’s constitutional right to freedom of speech.

The case against Richard Gabrys Jr., 63, was supposed to go to trial on Tuesday, but instead both sides debated whether the case should be dismissed on the grounds that the charges violate Gabrys’ right to freedom of speech under the U.S. Constitution.

Gabrys has been charged in the misdemeanor case with calling the state’s attorney’s office with intent to abuse or harass State’s Attorney James Glasgow and his receptionists.

Gabry’s attorneys, Richard Waller and Madeline Utter, both of the Will County Public Defender’s Office, filed a motion to dismiss the case on Jan. 10. The motion said his client’s rights were violated under the First Amendment.

In response, Special Prosecutor William Elward argued Gabrys’ “vile language,” repeated phone calls and behavior toward Glasgow’s receptionists were not constitutionally protected and violated Illinois law.

Ultimately, Judge Sherri Hale ruled in favor of Elward by denying Waller’s motion to dismiss the case. Hale said lawmakers have a right to regulate conduct and Gabrys’ case involved his conduct, not his speech.

Gabrys’ case is scheduled to go to trial on March 28.

Before Tuesday’s hearing, Elward filed an amended complaint that included more charges of harassment by telephone and harassment by electronic communication against Gabrys.

Waller called the case against Gabrys “shocking” and “borderline tyrannical.” He said the state is attempting to criminalize dissent. He said Glasgow is an elected official with a great deal of power. He said that power has limits under the First Amendment, which allows people to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

“That is foundational to our country,” Waller said.

Waller acknowledged there are limitations on freedom of speech, such as threats of violence, but he said nowhere in the complaint does it state that Gabrys made a true threat.

“They simply say he screamed obscenities,” Waller said.

Waller said he’s reviewed the evidence in the case and there was nothing that rose to a level of a true threat on Gabrys’ part. He argued the charges against Gabrys and his treatment by the law violated his constitutional rights and this case would have a chilling effect on critics of Glasgow.

Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow speaks during a rally for ZONTA Says No To Violence Against Women outside the old court house on Tuesday in Joliet.

Elward said the charges are legal and concern dozens of calls Gabrys made to receptionists at Glasgow’s office where he was screaming and using “incredibly vulgar language.” He said Gabrys had no intent to redress his grievances with the government but to upset those receptionists.

Elward said Gabrys could’ve written a letter or held a protest outside Glasgow’s office instead.

He said Gabrys used “vile language” in his phone calls to those receptionists. Elward said those receptionists were subjected to “cruel and unusual punishment” by Gabrys.

“He kept calling. He kept screaming. He kept swearing,” Elward said.

Elward is frequently appointed as a special prosecutor in cases Glasgow declines to handle, such as those involving police officers. Elward also once served on the prosecution team in case where Drew Peterson, 69, was convicted of soliciting Glasgow’s murder.

Prosecuting attorney Bill Elward makes a few request for trial during a pretrial meeting for the Edward Goewey case. Goewey, a Will County Deputy, is on trial for disorderly conduct after he allegedly yelled at school officials and threatened to personally remove a child believed to have made a threat to shoot students at St. Mary Catholic School in Modena. Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2022, in Joliet.