Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker at a press conference in May | twitter.com/govpritzker
A lawyer representing the campaign organization of Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker has asked a federal judge to block lawyers for a group of former African-American and Latino Pritzker campaign workers from questioning the governor under oath, amid an ongoing court fight over the campaign workers’ claims the Pritzker campaign discriminated against them.
The lawyers also asked the judge to also limit the ability of the plaintiffs’ lawyers to question Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton under oath.
On Jan. 15, attorney William B. Stafford, of the firm of Perkins Coie LLP, of Seattle, filed a motion in Chicago federal court seeking protection for Gov. Pritzker and Lt. Gov. Stratton against the plaintiffs’ attempt to make Illinois’ two chief executives sit for depositions.
Ill. Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton | Youtube screenshot
The motion specifically asked the judge to prohibit the campaign workers’ lawyers from questioning Pritzker at all, and “limiting the scope of Ms. Stratton’s deposition to only Plaintiff’s single defamation claim against her and related allegations.”
Should the court not wish to go along with that request, the Pritzker campaign lawyer asked the court to at least limit questions to “no more than seven written interrogatories or written deposition questions.”
“The only apparent reason Plaintiffs seek Mr. Prtizker’s deposition is to pull him back into litigation from which the Court dismissed him months ago,” Stafford wrote in the motion. “Meanwhile, Defendants have not sought to preclude Ms. Stratton’s deposition, but did reasonably request Plaintiffs limit that deposition to a reasonable duration and to the subject matter of Plaintiffs’ single remaining claim against Ms. Stratton…
“The Court should not permit Plaintiffs to engage in this harassing litigation tactic,” Stafford wrote.
The campaign workers filed suit in late 2018, days before Pritzker, a Democrat, was poised to score a lopsided win over incumbent Republican Bruce Rauner in the race for Illinois governor.
Attorneys Shay T. Allen and Jeanette Samuels, both of Chicago, are representing the plaintiffs in the action.
The named plaintiffs in the case had worked as field organizers for the Pritzker campaign. The lawsuit noted many of the plaintiffs had also worked on other prominent Democratic campaigns in Illinois and elsewhere, while others worked as activists in other progressive political and social causes, and for labor unions.
The lawsuit accused the Pritzker campaign of packing black and Latino campaign workers into majority minority neighborhoods, often in unsafe conditions; denying them benefits and advancement opportunities afforded to white colleagues; and ignoring complaints of racial inequality from minority staffers or terminating those who challenged the alleged conditions, among other allegations.
The complaint also directly accused Lt. Gov. Stratton of “defamation” for allegedly describing the plaintiffs as “extortionists” in comments to the press about the lawsuit.
A federal judge dismissed all claims against Pritzker himself early on, along with those against his campaign manager, Anna Capara. Discrimination and harassment claims were dismissed against Stratton, as well, leaving only the defamation claim pending against her personally.
However, the judge has to date declined to end the lawsuit against the Pritzker campaign.
In the intervening months, the two sides have sparred in court over discovery and depositions, particularly.
Late last year, the Pritzker campaign asked the judge to sanction the plaintiffs for allegedly refusing to cooperate with discovery on a timetable the Pritzker campaign thought was appropriate. The Pritzker campaign asked for the lawsuit to be tossed, as punishment for the alleged conduct.
The plaintiffs have asked the judge to deny that request, saying delays in completing the discovery and deposition process are not the result of “bad faith,” nor have they “intentionally delayed the case or hidden any evidence,” they said. Rather, they said, any scheduling difficulties are the result of the plaintiffs’ lawyers being “too busy.”
The judge has not yet ruled on the sanctions request.
In the meantime, however, the discovery process is continuing, court documents indicate, leading to the latest flare up over the plaintiffs’ attempts to question Pritzker and Stratton under oath.
In contesting the plaintiffs’ request, the Pritzker campaign lawyer said Pritzker has no personal knowledge of any of the matters in the plaintiffs’ complaint, nor did he or Stratton have any role in hiring, staffing, deploying, managing, disciplining or terminating “field organizers such as Plaintiffs,” Stafford wrote in a brief filed in support of the motion for protective order.
“In short, they (Pritzker and Stratton) focused on campaigning, not managing daily operational details,” Stafford wrote.
Further, Stafford said the governor and lieutenant governor should be shielded in some manner from questioning in this case because such depositions would impinge on their “very busy schedules attending to official business” … “consistent with their roles atop Illinois’s state government.”