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Judge rules Madigan’s ‘power’ sufficient to reinstate suit against him

Speaker of the House Michael Madigan spoke to the City Club of Chicago, at the University Club of Chicago in 2015. File Photo. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Mike Madigan has considerable “power and authority.”

That’s the official ruling of a federal judge, who has decided that the longtime Democratic House speaker’s influence is sufficient to allow a lawsuit filed against him by a former primary challenger to be heard — a suit that claims Madigan and friends muddied up the race in political ads and by registering two sham candidates.

Jason Gonzales in 2016 filed the suit claiming that Madigan and the “machine” called Gonzales a felon in mailers and TV ads, planted Madigan’s own supporters at polling places and registered two “fake” candidates to “dilute” the Hispanic vote in the predominantly Hispanic 22nd District on the Southwest Side.

U.S. District Judge Matthew F. Kennelly dismissed the case on June 20, but lawyers for Gonzales, led by former Cook County Commissioner Tony Peraica, persisted. The judge on Monday issued an opinion and order that vacated the dismissal — essentially allowing the case to continue but with some claims being tossed out.

In the suit’s initial dismissal, Kennelly wrote that Gonzales failed to allege that Madigan used power granted to him as speaker. But Kennelly now writes that “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 order says.

Gonzales, the order notes, alleges Madigan used funds he controls to inform voters Gonzales is a convicted felon — even though Gonzales later got a pardon. Gonzales also alleges Madigan used resources available to him, including political favors, control of campaign funds and precinct captains “to discredit Gonzales.”

Attorney Tony Peraica (left), counsel for Jason Gonzales, (right) who ran against Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan in the 2016 primary, speaks to reporters inside the Dirksen Federal Courthouse in 2016. File Photo. | Lou Foglia/Sun-Times

Kennelly argued against Gonzales’ claim that he was deprived of his constitutional rights by being called a felon – with voters assuming he’s not eligible to vote. The judge wrote that his argument fails since he was still eligible to run, despite being a convicted felon.  Kennelly said, however, that a constitutional issue may arise with Gonzales’ claim that there was “vote dilution” in the alleged placement of two fake candidates on the ballot.

“The fact that Gonzales argues the effect of this fraud was to dilute the Hispanic vote — the two alleged sham candidates have Hispanic surnames — does not negate the fact that the registration of sham candidates can, on its own, constitute a deprivation of a constitutional right,” Kennelly wrote.

Throughout the campaign, Gonzales maintained that he and Madigan were the only candidates on the ballot until he submitted his paperwork just minutes ahead of the filing deadline, allegedly prompting a Madigan operative to quickly pull out petitions in Grasiela Rodriguez’ and Joe Barbosa’s names.

At issue during the campaign was Gonzales’ teen criminal record, which was expunged and pardoned in 2015 by Gov. Pat Quinn. Gonzales spent two months in jail for the unlawful use of credit cards in 1991.

But according to the suit, Madigan “tainted the pool of voters with the message that Gonzales was a convicted felon in television commercials, internet commercials, mailers, yard signs, [and with] in-person encounters with potential voters.”

Madigan spokesman Steve Brown did not respond to a call for comment. Peraica’s law firm on Wednesday said it’s pleased the case has been re-instated.

A status hearing is scheduled for Oct. 5.