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Journalistic Terrorism? Illinois Supreme Court Justice Intersperses Ruling on a Controversial Adoption with Criticism of Chicago Tribune Columnist Who He Accuses of Writing False and Misleading Accounts of the Case

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Journalistic Terrorism? Illinois Supreme Court Justice Intersperses Ruling on a Controversial Adoption with Criticism of Chicago Tribune Columnist Who He Accuses of Writing False and Misleading Accounts of the Case

Article excerpt

IN A LEGAL opinion extraordinary for its vituperative language, the Illinois Supreme Court interspersed its ruling on a controversial adoption case with accusations that syndicated Chicago Tribune columnist Bob Greene was guilty of "journalistic terrorism."

The majority opinion, written by Justice James Heiple, accused Greene of using the adoption dispute as fodder to build readership.

In addition to attacking Greene, Heiple also lashed out at the governor of Illinois, Jim Edgar, and a highly respected Illinois appellate judge, Dom Rizzi, for their actions in the highly emotional issue of who should have custody of a 3-year-old known as "Baby Richard."

"Columnist Bob Greene apparently does not care," Heiple wrote in the July 12 opinion. "Rather, columnist Greene has used this unfortunate controversy to stimulate readership and generate a series of syndicated newspaper columns in the Chicago Tribune and other papers that are both false and misleading.

"In doing so, he has wrongly cried 'fire' in a crowded theatre, and has needlessly alarmed other adoptive parents into ill-founded concerns that their own adoption proceedings may be in jeopardy....

"Make no mistake about it. These are acts of journalistic terrorism," Heiple wrote.

Since May 1993, Greene has written about the emotionally charged case of Richard, who was given up for adoption at birth by his mother without the consent of his biological father.

The biological father, Otakar Kirchner, contends he was misled into believing the boy died at birth, and so he did not challenge the adoption for more than two months.

Kirchner reconciled with the biological mother soon after the birth and the couple is now married. Lower courts consistently ruled that Richard should stay with the only parents he has ever known.

In a ruling on the case last year, appellate Judge Dom Rizzi declared that that "best interest of the child" should be the determining consideration in Illinois.

But in their own controversial ruling in June, a unanimous Illinois Supreme Court said the biological father had not lost his right to block the adoption -- and that Richard must be returned to the biological parents.

And in the July 12 opinion rejecting a rehearing in the case, Heiple took a shot at Rizzi's "best interest" standard, saying the judge "grossly misstated the law."

In his columns, Greene has consistently maintained the little boy should remain with his adoptive parents. And he has pointed out several errors in Heiple's first opinion on the case.

In an interview, Greene said Heiple repeated those factual errors in his second opinion. And Greene noted that Heiple does not specify what is "false and misleading" in the columns.

The most recent opinion "just makes me feel like crying for this little boy," Greene said.

"It just seems to me that the criticism [Heiple] is taking on this, he is taking out on this little boy," he added.

Indeed, Heiple's opinion indicates the judge takes the criticism personally. …

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