A federal judge has thrown out a lawsuit filed last year by a North Riverside police sergeant, who claimed village officials violated his First Amendment rights when he was passed over for promotion and taken off a prestigious gang task force because he supported the wrong political candidates during the 2013 village elections.
On Aug. 21, Judge John W. Darrah dismissed three of the four counts in Sgt. Frank Schmalz’s lawsuit against present and former members of the village board and the village’s police chief, stating that Schmalz couldn’t show a causal connection between the decisions of his superiors and his political activities.
In dismissing the three counts, Darrah gave Schmalz leave to file an amended lawsuit, but it’s unclear whether Schmalz plans to pursue another case at the federal level. He has 30 days from the date of Darrah’s ruling to file an amended complaint.
“I’m in the midst of discussions with [my lawyers] and will follow their advice,” said Schmalz, reached by phone on Wednesday. “Other than that, I don’t want to comment further.”
Darrah didn’t dismiss the fourth count of Schmalz’s lawsuit, which claimed that former North Riverside Kenneth Krochmal defamed him with statements made in public outside the North Riverside Village Commons polling place on Election Day in April 2013.
However, the defamation complaint is a state claim, not a federal claim. If Schmalz fails to file an amended complaint, Darrah said he would dismiss that claim as well since the federal court does not have jurisdiction over it.
North Riverside Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr., who was one of the parties named in the lawsuit, said he expected the judge to dismiss Schmalz’s suit against him and the other officials.
“I believe the judge was correct in his ruling,” said Hermanek. “It was my opinion when I saw the lawsuit in the first place that it was frivolous.”
Schmalz, a 29-year veteran of the North Riverside Police Department. He is the president of the North Riverside Fraternal Order of Police Labor Council, the union representing the village’s patrol officers and sergeants.
Through Schmalz’s leadership, the union supported a slate of candidates in the 2013 village elections, headed by North Riverside police officer and former village trustee Rocco DeSantis, who remains on disability leave from the department.
Schmalz actively campaigned for DeSantis’ slate and was rumored to be DeSantis’ choice for police chief if DeSantis were elected. Eventually, however, DeSantis was thrown off the ballot and his slate was defeated by Hermanek’s VIP slate.
Because of his support of the opposition in the election, Schmalz contended that the VIP-led village board retaliated by failing to promote him to the rank of lieutenant, even though there were openings and he was the only person on the promotion list for lieutenant.
Schmalz was also taken off the West Suburban Enhanced Drug and Gang Enforcement (WEDGE) task force and replaced with the husband of the then-newly promoted deputy police chief.
In his lawsuit, Schmalz had asked the judge to order officials to promote him to the rank of lieutenant or commander. He also sought unspecified monetary damages.