YORKVILLE – Tensions were high, fists were clenched tightly and the mood in the courtroom at the Kendall County Courthouse got heated Wednesday afternoon, March 11, as attorneys in the Dennis Hastert vs. James Doe breach of contract civil lawsuit case rolled on in front of Chief Judge Robert Pilmer.
Doe, a former wrestler at Yorkville High School, is suing former Congressman and U.S. House Speaker Hastert for not paying in full an alleged agreed upon $3.5 million in hush money in connection with the alleged abuse of a juvenile Doe, who he once coached as a freshman in high school. Doe is suing Hastert for $1.8 million plus interest, from December 2014 to the date of payment.
Pilmer heard three dozen motions "in limine" Wednesday from Doe's attorney Kristi Browne, and John Ellis, who is representing Hastert, during a two hour hearing. These motions allow Pilmer to determine what information can be included during the civil trial.
Several motions were agreed upon, but the rest remained hotly contested by the attorneys as each presented their case.
Ellis said one of counsel's affirmative defenses was that Hastert entered into an agreement to pay Doe while he was under duress and being threatened by Browne's client.
"The defendant was afraid when he was confronted by the plaintiff and during these discussions where the alleged agreement was formed," Ellis said. "The plaintiff said things [to Hastert] along the lines of, 'Do you want to go to jail?' before he made the agreement he’s alleged to have made."
Ellis said Hastert had no reasonable choice but to enter into an agreement.
Pilmer shot down Ellis' argument that Hastert entered the alleged agreement under duress and barred it from being brought up at trial.
Another contested topic was whether or not Hastert's conviction for structuring funds could be introduced at trial. Ellis was against bringing up the evidence, while Browne said it was crucial to the breach of contract suit.
"It takes this case completely out of context to say we can't talk about the structuring hearings," Browne said. " ... To just say to the jury that the parties had a contract, but I can't tell you what it's about, that's ridiculous. The plaintiff being molested is the subject matter to this contract, and he should be able to testify to that."
Browne called it absolutely "improper" to bar the evidence of Hastert's previous money structuring conviction into the civil trial.
Pilmer ruled that Doe will be able to testify what occurred between he and Hastert back in the 1970s. And while sentencing and pre-sentencing documents drawn up during the money structuring case will not all be admitted into the civil trial, Pilmer ruled Browne may use the information provided by Hastert in those documents to impeach him during the civil case.
Browne said Hastert has denied molesting Doe during a deposition for the civil case, an allegation he has previously admitted guilt to.
A final, yet major point raised by Browne centered around Hastert's reputation and whether that should be allowed to come into play during trial. She asked that Pilmer bar evidence that the lawsuit will damage Hastert's reputation.
Ellis noted that while the defense has no intention of telling the jury that their decision will impact Hastert's reputation, they do intend to point out that reputation will be an issue in the case and in the defense.
It was also asked that testimony of Hastert's good reputation also be barred.
"We're looking to exclude the defendant from coming in and giving some long historical of his reputation," Browne argued. "It would be prejudicial and irrelevant to this case."
For Ellis, his client's reputation will simply show that he had something to protect when allegedly entering into an agreement with Doe.
"I'm not going to argue that he was a good person, or that he acted like a good person," Ellis said. " ... We're not going to offer it up for that reason, but for as to why there was a need for confidentiality, reputation is an issue."
Hastert allegedly paid Doe $1.7 million between 2010 and 2014, according to court documents. Hastert is also countersuing Doe for the amount that was already paid, alleging that Doe violated their confidentiality agreement.
The next court date for the breach of contract case is scheduled for April 14. Trial is set to begin on April 20.