A state appeals court has upheld a Cook County judge’s
dismissal of a complaint filed by a man who claimed a conspiracy of his
political opponents torpedoed his bid to become Cicero’s chief executive.
The Illinois First District Appellate Court upheld the
ruling of Cook County Circuit Court Judge Patrick J. Sherlock in an unpublished
order issued Feb. 24.
Justice Joy V. Cunningham wrote the opinion; Justices Thomas
E. Hoffman and Mary K. Rochford concurred. The order was issued under Supreme
Court Rule 23, which restricts its use as precedent, except under limited
circumstances permitted under the rule.
Juan Ochoa said he “was a formidable challenger” to Cicero
Town President Larry Dominick in 2013, but Ochoa lost in the Feb. 26 primary
Following the vote, Ochoa filed a complaint alleging a
conspiracy to interfere with his campaign, naming as defendant Dominick, as
well as Michael Del Galdo, Cicero’s general counsel, and various supporters linked
to a group identified as the Cicero Voters Alliance. Del Galdo Law Group LLC also
is a named defendant.
Among other accusations, Ochoa alleged named defendants Tom
Tomschin and Alejandro Rueda filed objections to Ochoa’s nomination, knowing
their objections were not grounded in truth, intending only to force Ochoa to
spend time and money to preserve his campaign. He further said “unknown
defendants dressed in uniform as Town of Cicero Community Service Officers
visited supporters of Juan Ochoa who had requested mail-in ballots, and
informed those voters that their mail-in ballots were fraudulent and would not
count in the election.”
Ochoa also sued Ruperto Delorea, a fellow primary candidate who
withdrew his candidacy, as well as several Cicero residents who petitioned to
support Delorea’s nomination. He argued Delorea was a “straw candidate”
intended only to split the Hispanic vote, and said some people who signed Delorea’s
nomination petition knew he did not intend to fully campaign.
After extensive court activity on all sides, Sherlock on
July 21, 2014, agreed to dismiss the complaint against all defendants with
prejudice. On June 30, 2015, the trial court awarded some of the defendants
legal fees associated with the proceedings, prompting Ochoa, a month later, to
file a notice of appeal challenging the 2014 dismissal order.
In her analysis, Cunningham noted Ochoa’s “appeal does not
raise substantive arguments as to whether his complaint sufficiently pleaded a
claim for relief” - rather he made a procedural argument questioning the
legality of combined motions to dismiss based on alternative arguments.
Ochoa, Cunningham said, relied largely on the 2013 Illinois First
District Appellate opinion in Garrido v.
Arena, also a case where a plaintiff who lost an election sued the winning
candidate and their supporters. Garrido
outlined a three-step test for determining if a suit is a Strategic Lawsuit
Against Public Participation, or SLAPP, which the Citizen Participation Act
forbids. That ban, per Garrido, is “designed
to bar only those lawsuits that try to abuse the justice system by bringing
unfounded claims in retaliation against defendants who legitimately exercise
their first amendment rights.”
Although the law bars mingling distinctive claims, Cunningham
wrote that’s not the same thing as “a prohibition against asserting alternative
arguments for dismissal.” She further said each of the defendants’ motions to
dismiss “contained separately-labeled parts which clearly delineated the
parties’ alternative arguments that the plaintiff’s complaint failed to plead a
viable cause of action on its face, warranting dismissal … and that the
plaintiff’s lawsuit was a SLAPP prohibited by the Act, independently warranting
Ochoa was represented in the action by the Avila Law Group,
Dominick, The Cicero Voters Alliance and other defendants
were represented by the Fogarty Law Office, and the firm of Laner Muchin Ltd.,
each of Chicago.