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Madigan rival vows to fight judge’s ruling to dismiss ‘sham’ candidate suit, insisting ‘voters were defrauded’

Jason Gonzales’ attorney Tony Peraica on Monday said he plans to file a motion to reconsider the dismissal — while also vowing to appeal, should that move fail.

Jason Gonzales, left; Mike Madigan, right Lou Foglia/Sun-Times; Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Attorneys for Jason Gonzales say they plan to fight a federal judge’s ruling to dismiss a lawsuit that accused Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan of putting “sham” candidates on the 2016 ballot.

U.S. District Judge Matthew F. Kennelly on Friday issued an opinion in favor of Madigan and the other defendants in the case originally filed in August 2016.

But Gonzales’ attorney Tony Peraica on Monday said he plans to file a motion to reconsider the dismissal — while also vowing to file a motion with the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals should that move fail.

“We are very disappointed by the court ruling. Illinois voters were defrauded by Madigan and his crew who got away with violating federal laws,” Peraica said in an email to the Sun-Times. “We will move to reconsider court ruling. If our motion is denied, we shall appeal.”

Kennelly granted Madigan’s request to dismiss the case, but the ruling went in detail in outlining some of the powerful speaker’s unique campaign tactics. The judge also concluded that a reasonable jury could have found that the Southwest Side Democrat and his allies engaged in some questionable activities.

But the judge found that Gonzales lacked the evidence to prove it.

Madigan attorney Adam Vaught on Monday said Gonzales’ claims didn’t belong in federal court.

“If you campaign on issues and lose, you can’t come into federal court to try to overturn the decision of the voters,” Vaught said. “Gonzales ran on the issues and lost.”

Kennelly first dismissed the case in 2017, then allowed Gonzales’ attorneys to refile. The judge’s decision to dismiss the case came after back-and-forth replies from attorneys as Madigan attempted to close the case. That included Madigan’s attorneys writing that political candidates have a constitutional right to run — no matter the reason — and “dirty tricks” are not a federal crime.

Gonzales’ attorneys pushed hard to get the case before a trial: “The idea that the scheme could have been conceived and executed without the direct approval of Madigan borders on ludicrous,” Gonzales’ lawyers argued in a motion last month. “A jury could find that the Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives was at the heart of a scheme to corrupt a public ballot. The issue must be put to trial.”

Gonzales had contended in the suit that the head of the Democratic Party of Illinois planted fake candidates — Joe Barbosa and Grasiela Rodriguez — on the ballot to split the Hispanic vote in his Southwest Side district. Gonzales’ attorneys dissected Madigan’s political operations in the matter — and have even deposed Madigan himself — to try to show an intersection between the veteran speaker’s public and political roles. Gonzales’ lawyers wanted jurors to act as a traffic cop at that intersection.

Madigan’s attorneys — collectively with attorneys for the other defendants — advanced two defenses in the case: the First Amendment right “to participate in the political process,” and the “First Amendment right to seek access to ballot and run or office.”

While Gonzales’ attorneys claimed the two candidates being on the ballot were “unlawful,” Vaught wrote that both candidates, Barbosa and Rodriguez, had the First Amendment right “to seek access to the ballot and to run for public office.”

Madigan ultimately beat Gonzales 65.2 % to 27.1 %. Rodriguez had 5.8 % of the vote and Barbosa trailed with just 2%.