[Please see also the response written by Robert Kukla, which supports Mr. Quilici's response.]
I have been invited by Mr. David Kopel to respond to his “Secret Weapon” article which appeared in National Review Online on 9/22/03, and is now linked to various web sites. Unfortunately the news of Mr. Kopel’s article did not reach me until about a month later. We exchanged correspondence and my response, appearing here for the first time, has been delayed by several bouts of illness interrupting my research of records going back more than 20 years.
Since the gun ban dates back to 1981, it is certain that many readers of Mr. Kopel’s article and this response were not of gun-bearing age at that time, too young to care, or not yet born. Hopefully, I can educate that younger element of our pro-gun rights community of the facts, and as to others--refresh their memories--and to all: present my position as a plaintiff/litigant in the suit brought against the Village of Morton Grove, which was characterized in Mr. Kopel’s article as a “vanity” lawsuit.
Having heretofore voiced my displeasure with the article to Mr. Kopel, I have since learned that he used the word “vanity” to convey that the initial Morton Grove lawsuit I filed was futile, harmfuland erroneousto pursue. Unfortunately, Mr. Kopel did not use any of that language in his “Secret Weapon” article to describe the “Quilici” lawsuit, but, instead, chose the word “vanity” which-- in the context of his statements-- painted a picture of pompousness on my part.
Those who lived through the events surrounding the ban back in the 80’s can recall the mad media rush that descended upon those of us in the front lines of litigation, including press from as far away as Japan. In a period of approximately three years I agreed to no more than ten radio and television interviews from among countless requests. I was such a “vain” person that within the first week of filing the initial lawsuit I turned down an interview by “Good Morning America” at the steps of the United States Supreme Court (with the Village attorney as my protagonist) with all expenses paid, including air fare to Washington, D.C. However, in Mr. Kopel’s article I was painted with a broad brush as some kind of reckless ego-maniac looking for publicity.
The “vanity” issue as reasonably perceived by a reader of Mr. Kopel’s article should be put to rest, and I feel this can best be accomplished by Mr. Kopel defining its intended meaning to the general public as he did with me. I can stand any criticism if it relates to someone’s opinion regarding the viability of the consolidated lawsuits, and even if directed to myself, so long as the facts are properly presented, but I abhor character assassination of any kind, especially when the facts have been “assassinated” as well.
“Secret Weapon” is based on a “reading of entrails”-- be it Mr. Kopel’s soothsaying, or that of his informant(s). In any case, the article was factually incorrect, and Mr. Kopel is guilty of the type of writing he once stated he abhors--that is, “the dissemination of unsupportable claims based on purported `information’ that was never intended to be used in such a manner.”
To summarize the events leading to the passage of the infamous Morton Grove handgun ban, it begins with myself and others learning of the proposed ban having been brought before the Village Board at a monthly meeting sometime in the Spring of 1981. At that time, Leslie Field, an attorney and a leading Right to Keep and Bear Arms activist, attorney Robert Kukla, a then-former NRA official, and I, contacted various gun lobby groups, including the NRA, and asked for help.
A local NRA representative helped gather support from the local citizenry to oppose the Board at its first open meeting regarding the proposal, and my friends and I put together a large group of Morton Grove residents to attend the meeting and voice their disapproval. At that time, the Village Board had publicized its actions and the local press appeared in great numbers. Thousands of Village Gun owners were rightfully concerned.
While this was taking place, Messrs Kukla, Field and I tried to obtain support to file a Chancery Court lawsuit whereby the action of the Board would be challenged by a temporary restraining order, and ultimately by injunction. At that point neither the NRA or any other interested gun lobby group would take up the banner and proceed to litigate. As expected, in June of 1981 the liberal anti-gun Village Board quickly passed the ordinance which forbade the possession of a handgun within the village limits; this, of course, included possession within one’s home.
Contacts were again made with the NRA, and the response we received was that Illinois had gone to the dogs with respect to gun laws because of the liberal tendencies of Illinois judges, and litigation was not a viable recourse. Since the handgun prohibition was to take effect immediately, the only legal avenue open to block it was to seek relief in a Chancery Court in Cook County, Illinois--and that is precisely what was done--the lawsuit seeking injunctive relief being filed by me within 24 hours of passage of the Ordinance. Anticipating passage of the Ordinance, the suit had previously been prepared.
The factual events outlined clearly contravene those set forth in the Kopel “Secret Weapon” article, where no mention is made of the attempts to obtain legal assistance from the National Rifle Association and its reluctance to bring any action, either state or federal, to immediately block the handgun prohibition from going into effect. The Second Amendment Foundation, early on, offered me financial assistance.
My lawsuit against the Village was filed as an “emergency” matter and included both references to the Illinois Constitutional provision regarding the “right to keep and bear arms” and the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment provisions--this having been done in accordance with the advice of various constitutional experts with whom I had consulted, and with whom I continued to consult throughout the litigation.
The Village counsel motioned to remove the case from the State Judge, who had been assigned to my lawsuit, and who was known to be a sportsman and pro-gun judge. The case was, pursuant to motion, removed to the federal court because of the 2nd Amendment provisions contained therein. At that point in time, while some talk took place regarding the viability of the lawsuit, there was neither a demand by the NRA that I drop those issues nor a refusal to do so by me. In fact, there existed mixed feelings between the NRA and the Second Amendment Foundation, and I. Soon, both the NRA and the Second Amendment Foundation also filed lawsuits in the Federal District Court, and those cases were consolidated with my lawsuit. This is another key matter never mentioned in Mr. Kopel’s “Secret Weapon” article. The reader is left with the impression that the entire Morton Grove litigation was not only my idea, but that onlymy case was before the Court and that I was solely responsible for the outcome, win or lose.
The NRA also filed a state case where the Illinois Constitution’s “Right to Keep and Bear Arms” provision was the main issue, with no mention of the 2nd Amendment, to avoid federal removal. This, I and my cohorts perceived, did not sit well with the SAF.
I do not understand how Mr. Kopel could not have been apprised of the fact that the NRA and the Second Amendment foundation were bothinvolved backing litigants in the federal action that was moving toward an adverse decision by Judge Decker against us collective plaintiffs. Legal briefs (written arguments) were filed on behalf of allparties to the actions against the Village of Morton Grove, including those of the NRA backed lawsuit and the 2nd Amendment backed lawsuit. Clearly, although never mentioned in the Kopel article, both the NRA and SAF had as much input in this litigation as I had.
When Judge Decker ruled in favor of the Village of Morton Grove it was by summary judgment, whereby none of the litigants had their day in Court--the District Court Judge ruling solely on the collective pleadings and filed affidavits. The NRA’s and the Second Amendment Foundation’s clients, through their respective counsel, had filed all their pleadings in the Federal District Court case, and all my pleadings had likewise been filed. Mr. Kopel refers to the “antigun federal judge” taking advantage of the opportunity to rule in favor of the Village of Morton Grove in the “Quilici” case--omitting the fact that the NRA and SAF cases, consolidated with mine, had been ruled upon as well.
The consolidated cases were then brought before the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Neither when the cases were before Judge Decker, nor at this point did the NRA request that my lawsuit be dropped. I was joined by a distinguished law Professor, Robert Gil Johnston, as a consultant, and he remained at my side working on the case throughout the appeals, and as co-counsel in the U.S. Supreme Court petition of which certiorari was denied. Professor Johnston went on to become the Dean of the John Marshall Law School in Chicago, Illinois.
After the briefs had been filed by all parties before the Court of Appeals, I received word through an intermediary that certain interested parties wanted both my lawsuit and that of the Second Amendment Foundation’s droppedin their entirety, which would entail a voluntary dismissal. The facts surrounding the offer I received regarding my suit would make a Hitchcock mystery story pale in comparison.
A voluntary dismissal of my suit and SAF’s consolidated suit , obviously, would have paved the way for NRA to proceed entirely on its own with the federal case, or to allow it to withdraw as well, thereby putting the federal appellate case at an end. It should be noted that the prior ruling by judge Decker in the United States District Court would remain intact and would not change in any way. Also, NRA’s state case, pending in the lower court, would have continued forward to its ultimate defeat. At this point we part company on the “results” as perceived by Mr. Kopel’s principal informant, and as set forth in his article mentioning my suit while attempting to make a point regarding the non-viability of the Silveira vs. Lockyer lawsuit. See Silveira at 328 F. 3rd 567.
Mr. Kopel quotes as his source for the Morton Grove case a then low-level functionary of the NRA, who predicated the loss of NRA’s state case (Kalodimos v. Morton Grove) on the unfavorable decision that issued in our federal litigation. Mr. Kopel’s source stated that the NRA backed state litigation was doomed to defeat once the Federal Court ruled in favor of the Village of Morton Grove. As I pointed out to David Kopel, this could not have been NRA’s official position at that time, especially because the NRA solicited financial support from hundreds of thousands of patriotic gun owners and had increased its membership by hundreds of thousands from the time of my filing of the initial lawsuit--all pursuant to its pursuit of boththe State and Federal lawsuits. If the State case was doomed to defeat the NRA would have assuredly pulled up stakes and voluntarily withdrawn the state action. This never happened, and the NRA backed State case went forward and was lost in the lower court and upon its appeal.
When oral argument time came before the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals I was asked by my associates to present oral argument. Law professor Donald Kates, representing the SAF case, requested more of the allocated time as did counsel for the NRA. After consulting with my associates it was decided that we should share argument by an approximate1/3 allocation to each counsel. Although this was not acceptable to the other counsel, there was no room for concession--my backers being incensed by the results of prior dealings with some of the Gun Lobby hierarchy.
Although more than 20 years have elapsed, if my memory serves me right, my argument was interrupted approximately 13 times by inquiries from the three-panel Justices, causing me to run several minutes past my allocated time. Professor Kates’ argument, likewise, was interrupted approximately 8 or 9 times. Mr. Kopel exhumes the scuffle between myself and SAF, including my suit, SAF’s retraction of its portrayal of the oral argument, etc., but this information does nothing to augment the gist of the “Secret Weapon” article--that is, its attempt to draw an analogy between the Quilici vs. Morton Grove case and the Silveira vs. Lockyer case as having damaged the pro-gun cause.
Regardless of what Mr. Kopel or his backers may postulate, you do not lose a case because of oral argument, a fact already pointed out to Mr. Kopel in various replies to his article. The ultimate 7th Circuit Court of Appeals decision was 2 to 1 against us, and Justice Coffey’s dissenting opinion has since been quoted in numerous law articles and in other cases. A close look at the dissenting opinion will show that Judge Coffey embraced a large percentage of the arguments raised in the Quilici briefs--much of which was attributable to professor Johnston’s input. Our cornerstone position that “a man’s home is his castle” will someday be embraced by our United States Supreme Court. Meanwhile, I ask you to keep the faith, and don’t let the “scapegoat type of criticism” be a deterrent to other cases that may one day answer our call. As so aptly put in one of the replies to Mr. Kopel’s articles, “we can’t wait forever for the stars to line up just so.”
God Bless America, and
God Bless our Cause,
Victor D. Quilici
Attorney at Law
P.O. Box 428
River Grove, Il., 60171
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