A Clay County judge last week rejected a defense motion for transferring Illinois State Rep. Darren Bailey’s lawsuit to Sangamon County to coincide with another lawsuit also contending Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s authority for extending a statewide stay-at-home order.
On Friday, May 15, Circuit Judge Clay County Resident Circuit Court Judge Mike McHaney did not accuse defense attorney Thomas Verticchio of “judge shopping” by moving the case out of Clay County, but added bluntly the Illinois Attorney General’s office apparently wants to fly the Clay County case north to friendlier confines. Judge McHaney ruled two weeks ago that Pritzker’s extension of travel and workplace restrictions were unconstitutional and violated the state lawmaker’s civil rights. Verticchio argued in a Clay County courtroom the change of venue would be more convenient for state witnesses, and also for accessing state records on the state’s COVID-19 response.
“If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck then it’s a duck,” Judge McHaney said before denying Verticchio’s argument for moving Bailey’s case since a Peoria County judge earlier allowed transfer of a similar case against Pritzker’s authority. The judge also cited several legal precedents on the transfer issue regarding cases to back up his ruling.
The Attorney General’s office, representing Governor Pritzker, states the case that could affect all state residents and businesses should be moved to Sangamon County where the seat of Illinois government is located.
McHaney also ruled in favor, without objection, Bailey’s amended complaint to expand it beyond a one-man case. Thomas DeVore, Bailey’s attorney, filed a motion that extended the case beyond just Bailey’s civil liberties but also on the impact for Illinois residents by the economic shutdown through Pritzker’s extension of his order. The plaintiff claims Pritzker does not have the legal authority to extend the stay-at-home order beyond 30 days, especially without state legislative or legal approval.
The judge then made it loud and clear this was a simple case of judgment on the law and should not require testimony from a group of government witnesses, which was one of the reasons cited for the transfer motion by Verticchio, who is representing the Illinois Attorney General Office. The defense counsel also referred to the availability of state records in Springfield in Sangamon County.
After making his ruling, the judge set a hearing date of 1 p.m. on Friday, May 22, for the plaintiff’s motion on a summary judgment, which could end the case in Bailey’s favor without a trial in Clay County. DeVore announced in court he planned to have a summary judgment motion filed by May 18 with the Clay County Circuit Clerk’s office.
This case started after Gov. Pritzker announced the stay-at-home order and closure of non-essential businesses would extend to May 30 across Illinois. During the first hearing in Clay County, Judge McHaney issued a restraining order against Pritzker’s stay-at-home extension relating to Bailey, effective for 30 days. The case then went to a State Appellate court and then to the Illinois Supreme Court where DeVore moved to bring the case back to Clay County with an amended complaint.
Outside the Clay County Courthouse last week, DeVore was happy for denial of the transfer motion and looked forward to arguing for a summary judgment even though he predicted the next move by the Attorney General’s office that could continue the process.
Bailey was glad the rule of law works. He said his case means something more for his constituents struck hard by the economic shutdown, but not at great risk from the spread of the virus. He and many others have pushed for a regional approach to reopening the state.
“I have heard from many people in my district facing real hardships. We must reopen. People are out of work and businesses can’t survive if this goes on any longer,” Bailey said.
Gov. Pritzker has said reopening too soon could prove disastrous for all parts of Illinois. His reopening plan calls for a measured approach as the medical data and experts through COVID-19 testing and fewer cases allowing different businesses and activities to resume. He does not want to buckle under to pressure that could end more lives and spark another spread of the disease and force another shutdown.
Critics of the Governor’s plan claim it is unrealistic and too slow for reopening the state. Bailey, a Xenia farmer who represents the 109th Legislative District, has voiced support for the “Back to Business” Plan that has a quicker reopening schedule but with many precautions, some similar to Pritzker’s “Restore Illinois” proposal.