CHICAGO (Illinois News Network) — A Federal judge has ruled that a lawsuit accusing House Speaker Michael Madigan of running “sham candidates” in a 2016 election can move forward.

U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly ruled that the powerful Chicago Democrat’s 2016 primary challenger for his state House seat can pursue part of his lawsuit claiming Madigan staged two dummy candidates to divert support from Jason Gonzales.

“Gonzales alleges that when they became aware he was running, Madigan and his associates [the other defendants] put up two candidates – Joe Barbosa and Grasiela Rodriguez – to dilute the Hispanic vote,” according to court records.

In the decision, Kennelly said that Gonzales had sufficiently accused Madigan of violating the voting rights of Gonzales and others in the 22nd Illinois House district by allegedly placing the two “sham candidates” on the ballot.

“This is ten times the level of anything the Russians have done in our election system,” said Anthony J. Peraica, Gonzales’ attorney. “Someone has to hold [Madigan] accountable and we intend to do that.”

Kennelly referred to a 1973 decision by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals (Smith v. Cherry) that found that by voting for one of the false choices, voters in that election were essentially supporting the person who placed the fake candidates on the ballot. This was Kennelly’s rationale for allowing this portion of the case to move ahead.

Allegations of sham candidates are nothing new in the history of Illinois politics. State Rep. Bob Rita was accused of doing the same this in last week’s primary election. The Blue Island Democrat and Madigan ally won decisively.

Gonzales filed the civil suit against Madigan and other defendants in 2016. No criminal charges have been filed.

Peraica said that Madigan could be responsible for paying Gonzales hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign expenditures if the judge rules against the speaker. It could also set a local precedent ending the practice of placing straw candidates on the ballot.

Gonzales’ political committee spent $287,016 on his primary campaign, according to elections expenditures.

Madigan’s attorneys sought to dismiss the charges, claiming Gonzales and others can’t prove that they spent more because of the additional candidates on the ballot, asserting the defendants should not be liable to pay back what Gonzales’ attorneys are seeking in damages.

Kennelly dismissed Gonzales’ defamation charges against Madigan. Those charges stem from Madigan and others’ portrayal of Gonzales as a convicted felon. He was pardoned in 2015 of felony charges by then Gov. Pat Quinn. Kennelly said that Gonzales was a public figure at the time, therefore must prove a higher standard of defamation. The judge also noted that Gonzales didn’t claim that he was granted a pardon because he was innocent. Peraica said he and his client will ask the judge to reconsider that decision.

Also named as defendants in the lawsuit are Madigan’s political committee, Friends of Michael J. Madigan, the 13th Ward Democratic Organization, the Prisoner Review Board, Shaw Decremer, one of Madigan’s former top political captains, state Rep. Silvana Tabares (D-Chicago) and Graciela Rodriguez, who along with Joe Barbosa were the two alleged “sham candidates.”

Madigan’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Madigan is fighting multiple lawsuits against him and his political operation. Kennelly’s decision came in the same week a former campaign worker sued Madigan’s campaign alleging her complaints about being sexually harassed by one of Madigan’s top political operatives prompted retaliation rather than redress.

Illinois News Network and their reporters represent Illinois as the taxpayers' watchdog, exposing the way government really works in Springfield.

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