Judge allows lawsuit against Madigan to proceed

Judge allows lawsuit against Madigan to proceed

A federal judge has cleared the way for a lawsuit filed by a 2016 primary opponent of House Speaker Mike Madigan, which alleges discrimination by the speaker for filing “sham candidates.”

A federal judge has reversed course on a lawsuit filed by a 2016 primary opponent of Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan.

In the suit, Madigan opponent Jason Gonzales alleged the speaker abused his political power by “register[ing] two sham candidates with Hispanic last names to split up the Hispanic vote.” Gonzales ran against Madigan in the March 2016 Democratic primary in the 22nd House District, which covers a small area on Chicago’s Southwest Side near Midway Airport.

The race in question and the subsequent lawsuit were featured in the 2016 documentary film produced by Illinois Policy Action, “Madigan: Power. Privilege. Politics.”

Gonzales’ original lawsuit also alleged defamation by the speaker for publicizing Gonzales’ criminal record and claiming it prevented Gonzales from holding office. As a teenager, Gonzales was convicted of felony and misdemeanor charges related to illegally using credit cards at shopping malls. But those records had all been sealed or expunged pursuant to a 2015 pardon from former Gov. Pat Quinn.

Gonzales’ lawsuit was dismissed in March 2017. The court allowed Gonzales to file an amended complaint and then dismissed that complaint as well, in June 2017.

But Gonzales petitioned the court to alter its judgment dismissing his case, and on Sept. 11, Judge Matthew F. Kennelly granted Gonzales’ motion and reversed course.

“After consideration of Gonzales’s motion, the Court concludes that it read his amended complaint too narrowly and that Gonzales has in fact adequately alleged that Madigan’s conduct in this case involved power and authority he had by virtue of his official positions,” the judge’s order reads. The court reinstated Gonzales’ claims against Madigan and the other defendants for running sham candidates to ensure Gonzales’ defeat in the primary.

Gonzales further alleged that one of those candidates, Grasiela Rodriguez, was rewarded with a job in the office of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, the speaker’s daughter.

The attorney general’s office has rejected that accusation.

Kennelly’s ruling points to an interesting claim made in Madigan’s defense, regarding Gonzales’ argument that the two allegedly sham candidates – both of whom have Hispanic surnames – served to dilute the Hispanic vote. “Defendants argue that Gonzales’s claim under this theory fails because he characterizes his claim as vote dilution, and vote dilution claims can only arise in the redistricting context,” the order says.

The speaker has experience in vote dilution via redistricting, as the first legislative map the speaker had a hand in drawing, following the 1980 census, was subject to intense judicial scrutiny for that reason.

A three-member panel of federal judges found that map unconstitutionally diluted the voting strength of black Illinoisans on Chicago’s South and West sides. In order to save Democratic seats, Madigan had extended certain city districts into predominantly white areas.

According to the Chicago Tribune, it was the first time a court in a Northern state had found the Democratic Party guilty of intentional discrimination against minorities.

Whether Gonzales’ case could leave a similar spot on the speaker’s record remains to be seen.

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