Friday, December 20, 2013

IL Supreme Court scheduled to hear State's appeal of judge's dismissal of Melongo eavesdropping case in a few weeks -- and the ACLU has filed an amicus brief on her behalf

"After stinging defeat, Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez is appealing judge's dismissal of eavesdropping charges against Chicago woman jailed 20 months for recording a few phone calls."

That was the headline of an August 9, 2012 Sidebar article.

The sting was that a powerful prosecutor with vast resources was legally bested by Annabel Melongo, a near-destitute woman with no formal legal training, who represented herself in the case.

Today I learned that in a few weeks the State's appeal of the lower court judge's dismissal of the charges -- on the grounds that the IL Eavesdropping Act is unconstitutional -- is scheduled to be heard by the Illinois Supreme Court.

But this time around, Melongo's not on her own.

Gabriel Plotkin (source)
This afternoon Gabriel Plotkin of the Chicago law firm Miller Shakman and Beem told me he and his colleagues will be representing Melongo and arguing on her behalf in front of the Supreme Court.

Click here to download the 60-page Defendant-Appellee brief filed December 6 on her behalf.

Click here to download the Plaintiff-Appellant brief filed by IL Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Alvarez.

And earlier this month, the Chicago office of the American Civil Liberties Union filed a friend of the court brief on behalf of Melongo. Page down to view; click here to download a copy.

According to documents posted on, the website tracking Melongo's case, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear her team's oral argument on January 14th at 9.30am at the Michael A. Bilandic Building, 18th floor, at 160 N. LaSalle Street in Chicago.

(According to the court schedule, the Supreme Court Building in downstate Springfield is being renovated during January, so perhaps some Chicago reporters will show up.)

Finally, as I reported last week, a federal civil rights lawsuit was filed in July against Alvarez, IL Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, and other county justice system employees by Melongo, who per the complaint filed in the case, "endured extraordinary hardships and underwent incalculable loss, pain and humiliation for which she's now seeking redress."

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Federal lawsuit filed against IL Attorney General Lisa Madigan, State's Attormey Anita Alvarez, Sheriff Tom Dart, and others by Annabel Melongo, who spent 20 months in Cook County Jail on dubious "eavesdropping" charges

Annabel Melongo of Chicago, who since 2006 has been fighting a string of dubious criminal charges, is kicking back in federal court with a wide-ranging civil rights lawsuit.

As Sidebar readers know, Melongo's troubles began in October 2006 when she was arrested for allegedly destroying the computer files of the nonprofit Save-A-Life Foundation (SALF), whose employment she'd left months before.

Two weeks after her arrest, SALF was the subject of the first of dozens of broadcast and print exposes. And since 2010 SALF has reportedly been under investigation by the IL Attorney General for the "possible $9 million misappropriation" of federal and state funds.

Melongo filed her federal case in July, but I only got wind of it today via, a website that chronicles her legal travails, including, per reporter Mark Guarino in the Christian Science Monitor, a 20-month jail stretch "for recording phone conversations with a county clerk."

Except for two sentences in a Sun-Times column by Carol Marin and an interview I did last year with a Rockford print weekly, Melongo's plight has been completely ignored by Illinois media.

Meanwhile, the NBC affiliate in Terre Haute, Indiana, thought her case was worth a two-night investigative report and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has also been on the story.

Annabel K. Melongo screenshot from NBC2 Terre Haute I-Team report

It's a complicated case that's been going on for over seven years, but the federal complaint includes a very readable blow-by-blow description. Click here to download a copy.

Here's the bare bones:

Per the case docket (accessed December 12), here's her attorney (a partner at Jones Day's Chicago office):

This item has been updated.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Dept. of Corrections: Will the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette fix errors in an 11-year-old article about a shady Chicago nonprofit? And was UPitt's Safar Center a "branch office" of the group?

On March 19, 2002, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published Lessons to take to heart; New program would make CPR and other emergency techniques a course of study in Pennsylvania schools by staff writer Anita Srikameswaran.

The article was about Carol Spizzirri, founder/president of the Save-A-Life Foundation (SALF), and efforts to expand the organization into Pennsylvania, aided by the eminent Peter Safar MD, namesake for the University of Pittsburgh's Safar Center for Resuscitation Research. (Dr. Safar died about a year later -- his New York Times obituary called him "the father of CPR." Incidentally, not long before his death, I exchanged some lively e-mails with him about my father.)

As Sidebar readers know, since November 2006, SALF has been the subject of dozens of media exposes and, per The Hill, has been under investigation by the Illinois Attorney General since 2010. Via the June 26, 2013 Dubuque Telegraph Herald, here's the pointed stick:
Since its establishment in 1993, the foundation pledged to teach school children first aid and emergency response practices. Despite receiving nearly $9 million to fund the program, however, very few records of students being taught have been found.
Along those lines, the 2002 Post-Gazette article included what appears to be pie-in-the-sky claims about how many students had received SALF training plus some factual errors.

Susan Smith (source)
It's never too late to fix the record, so this morning I wrote managing editor Susan Smith to ask if the paper has a "statute of limitations" on publishing corrections.

She promptly invited me to submit information for consideration and wrote that "if a correction is warranted, we will run one."

You can't ask for a better invitation than that, so this afternoon I sent her a letter co-written with my friend Gordon Pratt of Milwaukee.

Gordon is Carol Spizzirri's ex-husband who reportedly divorced her in 1981. In a published letter to the editor, he wrote that he has attempted "to bring to light misrepresentations made by the Save A Life Foundation" since his ex-wife founded the operation in 1993.

As I reported last week, Gordon and I sent a similar letter to the House Leaders of the Pennsylvania Legislature, Senators Mike Turzai and Frank Dermody, requesting their help to clean up similar errors in a House Resolution honoring Spizzirri and her organization.

I don't know how that Resolution came to be, but it happened a month after the publication of the Post-Gazette article.

Click here to download a copy of our corrections request letter in which we also suggested that the Post-Gazette contact the Safar Center to obtain more information about SALF's relationship with the Center which, according to page 6 of the nonprofit's 2003 Annual Report and other records, was a SALF “branch office.”

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Joint letter from me & Gordon Pratt -- whose daughter's tragic death was misrepresented in a State Resolution -- to Pennsylvania House leaders: Please clean up the record

Former PA Rep. Thomas Petrone, SALF founder/president Carol J, Spizzirri, and Tammy Janney (Guardian Angel Ambulance Service, West Homestead, PA) display proclamation honoring Spizzirri and her organization

On April 16, 2002, the Pennsylvania Legislature passed House Resolution 533 "Honoring Carol Spizzirri on her accomplishments with the Save A Life Foundation and supporting the expansion of the Save A Life Foundation in Pennsylvania."

Since then, the Save A Life Foundation has been the subject of dozens of media exposes and, according to a June 26, 2013 Dubuque Telegraph Herald article by reporter Erin Murphy, the organization is being investigated by the IL Attorney General for the "possible $9 million misappropriation" of federal and state funds:
Since its establishment in 1993, the foundation pledged to teach school children first aid and emergency response practices. Despite receiving nearly $9 million to fund the program, however, very few records of students being taught have been found.
Resolution 533, introduced by former Rep. Thomas Petrone of Pittsburgh, includes a variety of bogus claims.

It's never too late to clean up the record, so yesterday my friend Gordon Pratt of Milwaukee and I wrote to House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (who co-signed the Resolution) and Minority Leader Frank Dermody requesting that they take steps to do so.

Per Gordon's 2009 letter to the editor of the Daily Herald, "I was married to Carol Spizzirri from 1968-1981, when we divorced. Since 1993, I have repeatedly contacted elected officials in Illinois and elsewhere in an attempt to bring to light misrepresentations made by the Save A Life Foundation."

Here's one of those misrepresentations -- Spizzirri's distortions regarding the tragic death of their 18-year-old daughter, Christina Jean Pratt -- via a clip from The Maneuver Part I by Chuck Goudie, ABC7 Chicago, November 16, 2006:

Per our letter to the senators -- click here to download a copy -- that false version of events and other squiffy claims were in the House Resolution praising/supporting Spizzirri and her operation's expansion into the Keystone State.

The Resolution also noted that "the Save A Life Foundation medical advisory board includes Dr. Henry Heimlich, father of the Heimlich maneuver and head of the Heimlich Institute (and) Dr. Peter Safar, developer of cardiopulmonary resuscitation and the head of the Safar Research Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania...."