Illinois’ powerful Speaker of the House Michael J. Madigan has formally joined the court fight to prevent a former candidate who is suing the speaker and some of his political allies, from obtaining the release of a 2014 inspector general’s report his lawyer says is needed to substantiate the ex-candidate’s claims, by shedding light on how Madigan’s political organization operates.
On May 31, Madigan’s lawyer Adam R. Vaught, with the firm of Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP, filed a brief in Chicago federal court, asking the judge to reject the request from plaintiff Jason Gonzales to obtain the report, asserting the report only contains information that has “nothing to do with this suit.”
“… The only similarity between plaintiff’s complaint and the documents he seeks from the (Special Legislative Inspector General) is that they involve allegations of impropriety made against Mr. Madigan,” Madigan’s lawyer wrote.
“The only possible purpose of plaintiff’s subpoena is to attempt to gather unduly prejudicial information regarding Mr. Madigan. This Court should prevent plaintiff from abusing discovery to pry into confidential matters wholly unrelated to Plaintiff’s allegations,” Vaught wrote later in the brief.
The filing from Madigan comes nearly six months since Gonzales, through his attorney Anthony Peraica, issued a subpoena to Julie Porter, the state’s Special Legislative Inspector General, to turn over a selection of documents, including a copy of the so-called Homer Report, which had been issued by former LIG Thomas Homer, purportedly addressing allegations concerning Madigan’s influence over hiring at the Metra commuter rail agency.
Homer had completed the report purportedly at Madigan’s suggestion amid allegations of wrongdoing against the House Speaker following the resignation of former Metra CEO Alex Clifford.
Homer resigned as LIG shortly after issuing the report, and the reports had never been made public, as the Legislative Ethics Commission, which oversees the LIG office, has refused to release it.
In 2014, however, the Chicago Tribune published a report claiming to have obtained a copy of the report. While they, too, did not excerpt the report itself, the news report characterized the Homer Report as “a rare glimpse into Madigan’s thoughts on getting people government jobs and raises” and said the report “sheds a little light on Madigan’s tight-knit 13th Ward operation.”
Gonzales had named the 13th Ward Democratic Organization as a co-defendant in his suit.
Gonzales had filed suit in 2016 against Madigan and his political allies, about five months after Madigan easily defeated him in that spring’s primary election. In that complaint, Gonzales alleged Madigan and his associates had violated his rights under the First, 14th and 15th amendments to the U.S. Constitution, and had violated state laws on defamation, criminal history disclosure and had discriminated against him as a Hispanic.
Gonzales’ complaint specifically alleged Madigan and his campaign organizations had planted sham Hispanic candidates on the ballot to prevent Hispanic voters from aligning behind Gonzales, and had used Madigan’s influence within state government to improperly obtain information about Gonzales’ past, feeding the information to a friendly journalist, who publicized it.
According to the court documents, Gonzales had been pardoned in 2015 by then-Gov. Pat Quinn for illegally using credit cards when he was a teenager. However, Gonzales alleged officials at the Prisoner Review Board had improperly provided records about his past offenses to the Daily Herald.
U.S. District Judge Matthew F. Kennelly had dismissed both Gonzales’ initial complaint and an amended version.
However, Gonzales asked the court to reconsider those decisions, and in September 2017, Kennelly agreed, saying Gonzales had persuaded him he had overlooked Gonzales’ allegations that Madigan deployed “political favors, control of campaign funds and precinct captains to discredit Gonzales.”
With the suit reinstated, Peraica fired off subpoenas to Porter, who, in turn, asked the judge to quash the subpoenas, blocking Gonzales’ access to the Homer Report.
In January, the judge ordered Porter to turn over to him a copy of the report for his review, which she did.
And in the months since, lawyers for Porter and Gonzales have continued to argue over whether the report should be released. In a brief also filed with the court May 31, Porter argued the information contained in the report is irrelevant to Gonzales’ lawsuit, asserting the subpoenas are merely a “fishing expedition.”
“This case presents an opportunity for the Court to weigh the interests in protecting the integrity of the investigation of the Office of the Legislative Inspector General on the one hand, and the need for the production of what appears to be documents having no probative value to the present lawsuit on the other hand,” wrote Assistant Attorney General Sunil Bhave, who is representing Porter’s office in the matter. “This Court should protect the identity of complainants and witnesses, and generally protect the integrity of the investigatory process, by forbidding the disclosure of irrelevant material that is otherwise protected under the State Ethics Act.”
While asserting various arguments in support of their claims to prevent release, Porter’s brief also asks the judge to direct any disclosure of the report to be “for attorney’s eyes only,” to “maintain as best as possible the substantial interest in the confidentiality of the Legislative Inspector General’s work … and keep private the identities of any witnesses and individuals referenced in the subpoenaed documents who are not parties to the instant action.”
While Gonzales’ attorney has not yet responded to the May 31 filing, in a brief filed May 24, Peraica argued the desire to protect witnesses or whistleblowers is misplaced.
“Given the existence of multiple Summary Reports concerning Speaker Madigan, it appears plain that multiple ethical violations involving Mr. Madigan’s practices on state hiring were found by the Legislative Inspector General,” Peraica wrote. “This not only makes the relevance of Plaintiff’s inquiry manifest, it shows that no ‘mistaken whistleblowers and the wrongfully accused’ are present to be protected and the Speaker was hardly ‘wrongfully accused.’”
Peraica also asserted some form of restricted release could be possible, such as “for attorneys’ eyes only” or redaction, should the judge decide some information contained in the reports is too sensitive to be released or could be harmful to individuals not associated with the case.