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Judge dismisses District 304 eavesdropping suit against former employee

Published: Friday, Feb. 22, 2013 5:30 a.m. CST

GENEVA – The Geneva School District’s eavesdropping lawsuit against a former employee was dismissed, court records show.

Kane County Circuit Court Judge David Akemann issued a written ruling Tuesday dismissing the lawsuit with prejudice, which means the district cannot file another case on the same claim.

The district and two officials sued Margaret Pennington in March 31, 2011, for taping meetings in October and November 2009 despite being told not to, causing an atmosphere of “distrust and fear” at the administrative center.

Illinois law requires all parties to approve being recorded at a gathering or meetings, but public meetings are exempt, though several court challenges have found the law to be unconstitutional. Akemann ruled that Illinois’ eavesdropping statute is unconstitutional and violates the due process provisions of the 14th Amendment, among other issues, making the school district’s claims against Pennington invalid.

“The eavesdropping statute, on its face, violates the protections of substantive due process by failing to include an element of criminal intent which necessarily means that it criminalized wholly innocent conduct,” Akemann’s ruling states. “Accordingly, the eavesdropping statute may not support a claim against the defendant in this case and defendant’s motion to dismiss the complaint with prejudice is granted.”

According to Akemann’s ruling, the purpose of the state’s eavesdropping statute is to protect conversational privacy of citizens, “but the statute makes no requirement that there be a reasonable expectation of privacy in the conversations at issue in order for a violation of the statute to occur.”

The school district’s attorney, James Petrungaro, said he had not seen the ruling and would not comment.

Pennington, 53, of Geneva, did not return a voicemail message seeking comment. Her attorney did not respond to a message seeking comment.

At the time the district sued Pennington, she was coordinator of special projects and resource procurement during the 2009-10 school year. The lawsuit sought more than $100,000 in damages from Pennington for Assistant Superintendents Dawn George and Patricia O’Neil, as well as for the district.

At the time, George was in charge of student services. George since has retired. O’Neil was and still is the district’s assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.

Pennington was principal at Heartland Elementary School for the 2008-09 school year before she was assigned as coordinator of special projects at the district’s central office.

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