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Gov. Rauner, Speaker Madigan both expected to be deposed in election lawsuit

Gov. Bruce Rauner (left) and Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

What do Gov. Bruce Rauner, Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan and Cicero Town President Larry Dominick all have in common?

They all have been tentatively scheduled for depositions in a federal lawsuit that accuses Mike Madigan of winning elections by recruiting “sham” candidates.

Jason Gonzales claims in the suit that Madigan put up two “sham” candidates with Hispanic names to try to split the Hispanic vote in the March 2016 Democratic primary. Madigan beat Gonzales 65.2 percent to 27.1 percent. The other two primary candidates received a combined 7.8 percent.

And despite Dominick’s attorneys arguing he has nothing to do with the case, U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly on June 26 told attorneys Dominick would be deposed.

The reason? An attorney for Gonzales told Kennelly that Joe Barbosa, one of the alleged sham candidates, “claimed no knowledge of over half the [petition] circulators that were getting signatures for himself.”

“When I asked him why he decided to run against Mike Madigan, he really couldn’t give me a reason,” attorney Stephen Boulton said.

Barbosa said the candidate’s wife and daughter talked to him about running as well, Boulton said.

“Well, your honor, when we look at the records, we find out that in 2016 his wife and his daughter were paid campaign staff members for the Cicero Voters Alliance (The Larry Dominick Team), paid employees during 2016.”

“So you surmise that perhaps Mr. Dominick or people on his behalf have something to do with getting Mr. Barbosa to run,” Kennelly said.

Dominick’s attorney argued “that’s not evidence,” calling it “pure speculation.”

Kennelly said Dominick’s deposition would be limited to 90 minutes. According to a status report filed July 5, Dominick’s deposition is scheduled for Aug. 15. Dominick’s attorney, Sean Sullivan, on Aug. 10 filed a motion asking for a protective order barring the videotaping of Dominick’s deposition and asking for an order “barring questions related to the operations of the Town of Cicero government.”

Madigan’s deposition was scheduled for July 18, but Madigan spokesman Steve Brown on Thursday said the deposition was canceled by Gonzales’ attorney. Brown said it hasn’t yet been re-scheduled.

During a July 5 status hearing, Kennelly told lawyers, “I don’t care whether it ends up being 10 depositions or 10,000. The first named defendant in the case [Madigan] is getting his deposition taken.”

Rauner’s tentative deposition is set for Sept. 6, although footnotes in the status report note that Rauner’s counsel “stated the Governor’s busy scheduled precluded him from providing a firm date and asked that Defendants postpone a firm date.” His counsel also said the defendants could pick a date, but the governor “may not be able to commit to it,” the filing said.

Besides seeking the depositions of dozens of circulators, lawyers for Gonzales are also seeking to depose Kevin Quinn and Ald. Marty Quinn. Quinn was fired from Madigan’s 13th Ward Democratic Organization after Alaina Hampton, a political consultant and former campaign worker, accused Kevin Quinn of sending her unwanted text messages and phone calls in pursuit of a romantic and sexual relationship.

During the July 5 status hearing, Jennifer Marie Hill, an attorney for Gonzales, told the judge that “a few” circulators “were directed to state employment through Kevin Quinn, who is highly involved in the 13th Ward Democratic Committee.” But Madigan’s attorney denied that any of the circulators made that claim.

Shaw Decremer, another Madigan political aide, was also ousted from Madigan’s political organization as a result of “inappropriate behavior by a volunteer toward a candidate and staff” during a 2016 campaign.

Decremer, also a defendant in Gonzales’ federal lawsuit, has a tentatively scheduled deposition on Aug. 17.

Madigan’s attorneys are asking for the depositions of several people, including former Illinois Policy Institute head Kristina Rasmussen, who also served 88 days as Rauner’s chief of staff last year. They’re also seeking depositions of Austin Berg, an Illinois Policy Institute employee who wrote the documentary film “Madigan: Power. Privilege. Politics,” as well as Illinois Policy Institute CEO John Tillman.

One of the defense strategies for Madigan’s team is to try to prove that Gonzales was a “closet Republican.”

“It’s a defense that you did it and we had a darn good reason to because it was, it was basically, it was basically a mole from the other side trying to infiltrate the Democratic primary,” Kennelly said.

One of Madigan’s attorneys, Vincent Rizzo, said “that is one strategy that we have.”

“I just want to indicate, it’s more of a, even if we did do it, not necessarily admitting to it, that this would be our defense,” Rizzo told the judge.

Gonzales publicly distanced himself from Rauner at an August 2016 press conference at Dirksen Federal Courthouse announcing the suit. Gonzales, a Democrat who secured the backing of many Republicans and Rauner supporters, raised more than $100,000 for his campaign. As Gonzales and his attorney, former Cook County Commissioner Tony Peraica, sought to plead their case, two men began shouting: “Who in the governor’s office’s staff is helping you out on the lawsuit?” and later “six criminal convictions.”

“Madigan minions are here,” Peraica said. “So I apologize for the disturbances.”

The interruptions — from two men who said they were from an Evanston radio station — prompted Gonzales to publicly distance himself from Rauner once again: “I’ve never met Gov. Rauner. I’ve never asked him for anything. I am not a plant of Gov. Rauner.”

A status hearing in the case is scheduled for Aug. 13.