Downstate judge denies AG request to move lawmaker’s case to Sangamon County
State Rep. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia, tells reporters during a video news conference April 24 that he agrees with Gov. JB Pritzker that COVID-19 is a public health crisis. But, he added, the governor overstepped his statutory authority by continuing to issue executive orders after April 8, when he alleges the state of emergency expired. His legal challenge will remain in Clay County court after the attorney general office’s request to have it moved to Sangamon County was denied Friday. (Credit: BlueRoomStream.com)
Bailey’s attorney argues request was state looking for a ‘favorable ear’
By REBECCA ANZEL
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD — A downstate judge on Friday denied the attorney general office’s request to move to Sangamon County a Republican representative’s lawsuit challenging Gov. JB Pritzker’s authority to issue successive disaster proclamations.
Rep. Darren Bailey, of Xenia, filed his case on April 23 alleging the governor overstepped his power by declaring more than one state of emergency to address the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since then, Clay County Circuit Court Judge Michael McHaney ordered that Bailey should temporarily not be subject to Pritzker’s stay-at-home order, but an appeals court undid that ruling at Bailey’s request.
The attorney general’s office also unsuccessfully petitioned the Supreme Court to weigh in on the lawmaker’s allegations.
Now, McHaney has rejected that office’s petition to transfer Bailey’s case to Sangamon County.
The state argued the move was warranted because the county is the seat of Illinois government, the case has statewide implications and relevant witnesses are located in the county.
Thomas DeVore, Bailey’s attorney, argued in a court document that the state’s request reflects its “motion for substitution of judge cloaked as a forum change for ‘convenience.’”
Devore wrote that the appeal for venue change is being used as a “vehicle for Pritzker to forum shop for a favorable ear,” when such a request would properly be used as “a device to remedy a situation in which the existing forum is truly inconvenient for all parties.”
The shift from Clay County to Sangamon County would be “proper,” the state wrote in its motion, because Pritzker has an “official residence” in Springfield and the executive orders and disaster proclamations Bailey’s lawsuit disputes were officially issued there.
According to statute, the passage of laws and other official state actions must occur in Springfield. Even though Pritzker was last in the state capital to update residents about the government’s response to COVID-19 on March 16 and physically signed the documents in Chicago, they were entered into the state’s record in Springfield with the secretary of state’s office.
“Governor Pritzker maintains his official residence in Sangamon County, and does not reside in Clay County. The orders Governor Pritzker issued for the purpose of combating COVID-19 were issued in Sangamon County, not Clay County,” the attorney general’s office argued in its court filing. “...All of the documents, and the actions they memorialize, are intrinsically connected with Sangamon County.”
DeVore characterized the attorney general’s office referencing Pritzker’s official residence in Springfield as an “obfuscation at its best,” and alleged where the governor lives is not important for determining where Bailey’s lawsuit should be litigated.
“It should not escape this court that Pritzker does not allege he actually lives in Sangamon County,” he wrote in the court document. “Unless the Thompson Center has somehow moved to Sangamon County, given it seems to be the location of Pritzker’s daily press briefings, it would seem readily apparent he is actually residing in Cook County.”
The “relevant documents” mentioned by the attorney general’s office “can easily be printed,” DeVore argued. He added the office offered no information about who the “many unidentified witnesses” are, where they work and live or what knowledge they could offer the judge.
In its filing, the attorney general’s office wrote it was asking McHaney to rule the same way a Peoria County judge did in a case “advancing an identical legal theory to this one.”
Judge Derek Asbury ordered that because that lawsuit sought to declare Pritzker’s executive order “promulgated and issued from Sangamon County” unconstitutional, it made sense to move the case to that county.
“The court cannot ignore the public interest factor of this being a localized versus statewide controversy, touching every corner of the state,” Asbury wrote in his opinion issued Tuesday. “The court finds it is as important to have consistency in rulings on a statewide issue during this pandemic.”