YORKVILLE – The trial for a $1.8 million breach-of-contract case between former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert and a man known as James Doe still is expected to go to trial, despite a judge making additional rulings on the case this week.
In a Wednesday, Nov. 20 court hearing, 23rd Judicial District Chief Judge Robert Pilmer denied a motion from Doe and his counsel to reconsider the court’s finding that Doe breached the agreement between him and Hastert in not keeping the agreement strictly confidential. Pilmer said he didn't believe there was any additional basis beyond what he has already seen to reconsider his original decision in September.
Pilmer also denied a motion from Hastert and his counsel to enter a judgment in favor of Hastert, who is counter-suing Doe for $1.7 million and accusing Doe of breaching the contract by not maintaining allegedly agreed-upon confidentiality. However, he said, he acknowledged that John Ellis, Hastert's lawyer, made a good argument about the issue of materiality, the estimated effect the presence or absence of information may have on the accuracy or validity of a statement, in the counterclaim and the case overall because the agreement was never made official beyond an oral agreement.
Pilmer also referred to an argument made by Kristi Browne, Doe’s lawyer, who said in court Wednesday that Hastert and his counsel already had his chance to include this argument within his summary judgment, which the judge previously denied.
"I agree with Miss Browne that perhaps the motion to rule [is] untimely at this point," Pilmer said.
Doe, a former wrestler at Yorkville High School, is suing Hastert – who served as a congressman from 1987 to 2007 and was U.S. House Speaker between 1999 and 2007 – for not paying in full an allegedly agreed-upon $3.5 million in hush money. He has accused Hastert of sexually abusing him when Hastert was a teacher and wrestling coach at the high school.
Doe is suing Hastert for $1.8 million plus interest, from December 2014 to the date of payment, in the lawsuit that has been in court for more than two years. Hastert allegedly paid Doe $1.7 million between 2010 and 2014, but Hastert is counter-suing Doe for that amount because his counsel believes Doe breached the contract by telling friends and family members about the agreement, according to court documents.
Browne said after the Nov. 20 hearing that the judge denying the motion for judgment to be entered on Hastert's counterclaim for $1.7 million means it will continue along the court process.
"That counterclaim is still out there," Browne said. "The judge has not entered a judgment on it one way or the other."
Browne said she was pleased with the judge's ruling on Hastert's motion, saying she thinks those issues presented in the motion – including what contract confidentiality means in this case and whether Hastert breached the contract by not paying the remaining amount – should be decided by a jury. However, she said, she was disappointed on the judge's ruling on her client's motion.
"Because I felt that the issue of whether or not my client breached the contract should also be something the jury should get a chance to consider," Browne said. "But the judge has made his ruling."
John Ellis, Hastert’s lawyer, declined additional comment after the hearing.
The update comes after a hearing earlier this month, when trial dates for the case were delayed another six months, with a final trial setting date of April 15 and the jury trial scheduled to commence April 20. That order came after Ellis filed a motion to reschedule trial dates for the case because of issues that arose concerning Hastert’s availability for the trial originally scheduled for this month. Ellis declining to elaborate on the exact circumstances of Hastert's lack of availability.
Browne said she still expects the case to go to trial and Doe to testify in the trial. She had said her client would have to be identified and in the presence of the jury during its selection to identify any potential conflicts of interest among possible jurors.
The next steps in the case include Pilmer hearing arguments in court at 1 p.m. March 11 over the 17 motions in limine, requests for certain testimony or evidence to be excluded from the trial, filed by Browne and 18 filed by Ellis.
Among those motions in limine are Hastert’s counsel requesting to preclude evidence of Hastert’s criminal conviction, supervised release conditions and related statements, citing hearsay and prejudicial concerns, according to court documents. Those motions also include Doe’s counsel requesting leading questions of Hastert by his counsel to be barred if Doe’s counsel calls Hastert as an adverse witness during the trial.