A former Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate seat ultimately captured by Barack Obama has asked a federal judge to block lawyers for Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan from using a forthcoming deposition as a fishing expedition to dig up political intelligence on potential political opponents of the powerful chairman of the state Democratic Party.
On Aug. 21, attorneys for Blair Hull filed a motion in Chicago federal court, asking U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly to limit both the amount of time and the scope of the questions Madigan’s lawyers can use to interrogate him as part of the House Speaker’s defense against a lawsuit brought by a former candidate for Madigan’s seat, who alleged Madigan’s political organization improperly undermined his candidacy with political dirty tricks.
“…Limitless discovery would politically advantage Defendants, while undermining Mr. Hull’s own right to politically oppose them, turning the discrete constitutional dispute in this case into a ‘political proxy war,’” Hull’s attorneys wrote in their motion.
Blair Hull | By AJFinch272 [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons
The dispute over Hull’s deposition is the latest act to play out in a legal dispute that now stretches back nearly two years.
Plaintiff Jason Gonzales 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 his complaint, Gonzales alleged Madigan and his associates violated his constitutional rights and violated state laws, when they allegedly planted sham Hispanic candidates on the ballot to prevent Hispanic voters from aligning behind Gonzales, while also funneling improperly obtained criminal records about Gonzales to a friendly journalist.
According to court documents, Gonzales had been pardoned in 2015 by then-Gov. Pat Quinn for illegally using credit cards when he was a teenager.
While Judge Kennelly initially dismissed the lawsuit, he later reinstated it, 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.”
In response, Madigan and his organization appear to have launched a defense accusing Gonzales of being the sham candidate, recruited to run by a conspiracy of political opponents of Madigan.
As part of that defense, Madigan’s team sought to require a large group of prominent Illinois politicians, donors and activists to testify under deposition, including Ill. Gov. Bruce Rauner and Hull.
On Aug. 20, Kennelly put the kibosh on most of those deposition requests, including for Rauner, stating in open court the governor’s dislike of Speaker Madigan was already a well-established fact, while questioning what Madigan’s legal team might learn of value from questioning the governor.
Rauner has stated he and Gonzales have had no past interactions.
However, the judge allowed the deposition of Hull to continue.
Now a resident of Idaho, Hull, 75, remains a prominent donor and activist in Illinois Democratic Party politics. Hull is also a former U.S. Senate candidate, who most notably finished second to Obama in the 2006 Democratic primary vote.
In his Aug. 21 motion, Hull noted his activism has repeatedly placed him at odds with many Illinois politicians, including those of his own party. However, he denied being part of any “Republican cabal” conspiring against Madigan, claims he said he believes are based on “contributions and loans” made to a political action committee identified as Illinois United for Change.
According to public records, Hull’s firm, Hull Investments LLC, donated $450,000 to that PAC in March 2016.
In his motion, Hull asked the court to limit questioning in the deposition to those donations and loans to the PAC
Hull’s attorneys said Hull “is rightfully concerned that the deposition - which will essentially be conducted by a political rival within Mr. Hull’s party - will go far beyond Mr. Hull’s firm’s contributions and loans to Illinois United for Change.
“ Instead, it could be used to pry into Mr. Hull’s own political activism, personal connections, and support for candidates that are opposed by Defendants, including after the March 15, 2016 Primary Election between Plaintiff Gonzales and Defendant Madigan,” Hull’s lawyers said.
Hull is represented in the action by attorney Jay L. Statland, of the firm of Burke Warren MacKay & Serritella P.C.