A former primary election challenger to Illinois’ top state Democratic politician has been cleared to continue to sue Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan and some of his supporters for allegedly placing “sham candidates” on the ballot two years ago to confuse and split the Hispanic vote, reducing the threat the opponent posed to the powerful Chicago lawmaker.
On March 16, U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly rejected the attempt by Madigan and certain of his political allies to dismiss that aspect of the lawsuit brought by plaintiff Jason Gonzales, saying the former candidate had “plausibly alleged” that Madigan and his supporters had placed the other “sham candidates” on the ballot to simply serve as “proxies for Madigan,” violating the voting rights of everyone in Madigan’s district.
Gonzales, a Chicago Democrat, had filed suit in August 2016 in Chicago federal court against Madigan, who had had easily defeated Gonzales in a Democratic primary election earlier that spring in the contest for Madigan’s seat in the Illinois House of Representatives. Madigan has occupied that seat since 1971, serving as Speaker of the state House for all but two years from 1983 to 2018, earning him the title of America’s longest serving legislative leader ever.
Gonzales’ suit centered on accusations of dirty political tricks against Madigan and his allies.
The lawsuit also had named as defendants Madigan’s campaign organization, Friends of Michael J. Madigan; the 13th Ward Democratic Organization; the Illinois Prisoner Review Board; Madigan aide, Shaw Decremer; state Rep. Silvana Tabares, D-Chicago; journalist Ray Hanania; and two other Hispanic candidates whose names also appeared on the 2016 Democratic primary ballot against Gonzales, Joe Barbosa and Grasiela Rodriguez.
According to the lawsuit, Gonzales accused Madigan and the other co-defendants of violating his First, 14th and 15th Amendment rights, as well as state laws regarding defamation, criminal history disclosure and conspiracy to prevent voting.
Gonzales centered his complaint on two primary allegations.
First, he alleged Madigan and his campaign organizations discriminated against him and violated the voting rights of people in that state house district by placing Barbosa and Rodriguez to serve as sham candidates to split the Hispanic vote in the primary.
Gonzales also alleged Madigan or his allies improperly obtained and funneled to a friendly journalist information about Gonzales that was intended simply to embarrass and smear Gonzales.
According to the lawsuit, Madigan’s allies allegedly obtained from the Illinois Prisoner Review Board records about misdemeanor and felony convictions Gonzales received as a teenager for unlawful use of credit cards, even though he had received a full pardon from Gov. Pat Quinn in 2015. Gonzales alleged that information was then publicized in the Daily Herald newspaper.
Kennelly had initially dismissed all of Gonzales’ complaint. However, Gonzales asked the judge to reconsider, and the judge largely revived the case in September 2017 against all defendants but Hanania, who had faced a conspiracy claim. The allegations against the Prisoner Review Board had been dismissed in March 2017.
The judge said he had overlooked Gonzales’ allegations that Madigan deployed “political favors, control of campaign funds and precinct captains to discredit Gonzales.”
Madigan and his co-defendants responded by again asking the judge to dismiss the case.
Judge Kennelly agreed to dismiss the state law defamation and false light charges, saying, as a candidate for public office, Gonzales needed to prove the information about him that was publicized was false and was used with “actual malice.”
However, the judge said Gonzales does not contest the information was false, nor does he argue former Gov. Quinn pardoned him because he was actually innocent of the crimes for which he was convicted, dooming his attempt to sue for defamation.
“… A convicted person who receives a pardon authorizing expungement cannot claim that the state has completely forgotten his conviction,” Judge Kennelly wrote. “In sum, Gonzales has not plausibly alleged that any statement that he was a convicted felon was false, let alone knowingly or recklessly so.”
The judge, however, was less receptive to the attempt to dismiss Gonzales’ allegations concerning the sham candidates.
Noting 1973 decision in the case of Smith v Cherry, Kennelly said the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals had noted it could be a constitutional violation for an incumbent to place such stalking horses on the ballot, to confuse voters and reduce the threat of an election challenge from another candidate.
Gonzales is represented in the case by attorney Anthony J. Peraica, of Chicago.
Madigan and his allies are represented by attorneys with the firm of Hinshaw & Culbertson, of Chicago.