Trials & Litigation

Judge tosses lawyer’s defamation suit against ex-mayor for alleged crude and insulting statements

The statue of Christopher Columbus in May 2019 in downtown Chicago. (Image from Shutterstock)

Then-Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot was acting within the scope of her official duties when she allegedly questioned a lawyer’s legal abilities and bragged that she has the “biggest d- – – in Chicago,” according to a Cook County, Illinois, judge.

As a result, Lightfoot, who was the mayor of Chicago from 2019 to 2023, is absolutely immune in a defamation lawsuit filed by former Chicago Park District lawyer George Smyrniotis, Judge Kathy M. Flanagan ruled in a May 28 order. Flanagan tossed the suit against Lightfoot and the city of Chicago.

Law360 and the Cook County Record have coverage.

Smyrniotis had alleged in a March 2022 suit that Lightfoot defamed him in an obscenity-laced Zoom call when she criticized his handling of litigation over a Christopher Columbus statue.

Lightfoot allegedly asked Smyrniotis whether he even went to law school and whether he even had a law license. She also maintained that pleadings in the suit had to have city approval.

“You d- – -s, what the f- – – were you thinking?” Lightfoot allegedly asked Smyrniotis and the park district general counsel.

The Chicago Park District had sought to seal the suit. In her May 28 order, Flanagan said she was denying “various motions to seal/and or impound various documents and filings.”

Lightfoot had ordered the Columbus statue removed from Columbus Plaza in Arrigo Park in July 2020 after it was targeted by protesters. The park district was obligated to maintain the statue under a contract that required changes to be approved by the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans.

After the statue was moved to a park district facility, the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans sued. Acting under the park district superintendent’s direction to settle the case, Smyrniotis allowed the statue to be used temporarily on the last float at the annual Columbus Day parade, his suit said.

Unknown to Smyrniotis, Lightfoot allegedly told the committee that she would pull the parade permit if it used the statue.

Smyrniotis alleged that he was forced to resign in February 2022, two years earlier than his planned retirement, and his pension was reduced as a result.

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