The Illinois Supreme Court will hear arguments in a fraud lawsuit against a Batavia woman who is accused of conducting an elaborate, 18-month online hoax to make a California woman believe that a firefighter she'd met in a chat room and fallen in love with had died.
Paula Bonhomme of Los Angeles sued Janna St. James in 2008 for fraud, defamation and intentional infliction of emotional stress and is seeking more than $100,000, along with punitive damages.
A Cook County Court dismissed the suit, but an appellate court panel reinstated it earlier this year and moved it to Kane County. The appellate court also suggested both sides take it to the state's highest court to see if the online actions could equal fraudulent misrepresentation and whether St. James should be responsible for damages if found liable in Kane County Court.
"There isn't any case law that says it shouldn't apply," said Adam Urbanczyk, an associate of Daliah Saper, who is Bonhomme's lead attorney. "These types of issues are happening routinely all over the country."
St. James' attorney. Phyllis Perko, could not be reached for comment. No criminal charges have been levied against her in this case.
In Bonhomme's lawsuit, she accuses St. James of beginning a cruel hoax in 2005, by assuming the identity of a sensitive firefighter from Colorado named "Jesse Jubilee James."
St. James used voice-altering technology over the phone and assumed the personalities of 21 other people through blogs, emails and other means to convince Bonhomme she'd met her lifelong love, the lawsuit states.
Bonhomme sent Jesse gifts and the pair made plans to eventually live together, but he "died" of liver cancer in July 2006. Soon after that, St. James became friends with Bonhomme, but her friends became suspicious, learned Jesse was fake and confronted St. James.
After the hoax was revealed, St. James blogged about Bonhomme and damaged her reputation, the suit states.
"Some who have never had any direct contact with me whatsoever and some who have and think they know me at all like to say I'm the world's best online scammer EVER," St. James wrote in a blog, according to the lawsuit. "Every decade or so I get a taste to pose as a man (and up to 20 other people simultaneously) and reel me in some juicy middle-aged woman flesh for purposes they never quite explain. It sure ain't money or sex."
Both sides have until Nov. 2 to submit additions to their court filings and then a date for oral arguments will be set.