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In December 2015, Chicago Democrat Jason Gonzales presented to election officials his signature petitions to run for the Illinois House of Representatives shortly before their office closed on the last day of the filing period.

Within minutes, petitions for two other candidates — Joseph Barboza and Grasiela Rodriguez — were filed.

The three late filings created a four-way contest for the Democratic Party’s nomination to the 22nd District Illinois House seat held by political powerhouse and longtime House Speaker Michael Madigan.

Madigan went on to win the March 2016 primary and the general elections in November 2016 and November 2018. But the reverberations of the disputed Barboza and Rodriguez filings continue to be felt.

Gonzales subsequently filed a federal lawsuit alleging that Madigan, as has been his longtime practice, arranged for the filings of two phony candidates to split the vote of Madigan opponents.

He alleged, among other things, that Madigan’s effort was designed to wrongfully divide the Hispanic vote.

U.S. Judge Matthew Kennelly declined to dismiss Gonzales’ lawsuit in September 2017, paving the way for Madigan and some of his associates to submit to a series of depositions.

Kennelly ruled then that there was sufficient evidence showing Madigan abused his power to proceed with the lawsuit. But the judge issued a caveat indicating he would revisit the dismissal issue.

“These claims are still potentially subject to dismissal based on the remaining arguments in defendants’ motion to dismiss the original complaint that the court did not initially consider,” Kennelly stated.

Nearly two years later, another motion to dismiss is pending. In the meantime, the depositions are proceeding, two of which were recently publicly disclosed.

Joseph Nasella and Michael Kuba moved heaven and earth to avoid being served with subpoenas, to the point that Kennelly cited them for contempt in March for failing to attend court-ordered depositions.

The judge ordered federal marshals to “use necessary and reasonable force” to take the pair into custody and compel their participation in the depositions.

Madigan and his lawyers have denied that the veteran politician played any role in circulating and filing the petitions to place the names of Barboza and Rodriguez on the ballot. But they’ve claimed failing memories to make it more difficult for Gonzales’ lawyers to come up with the facts they need to build their case.

Asked whether he tried to find the additional candidates, Madigan replied, “I don’t remember that.”

Asked if it was possible that he did, Madigan replied, “No.”

Asked if he was certain that he didn’t, Madigan replied, “I don’t remember.”

According to the Chicago Tribune, Nasella reluctantly acknowledged in his deposition that he was asked by a Madigan associate, Kevin Quinn, to solicit petition signatures for one of the disputed Madigan candidates, a request he considered “strange.”

When Nasella asked Quinn why he (Nasella), a Madigan campaign worker, should collect petition signatures for a Madigan opposent, Nasella said Quinn made no verbal response but displayed a “poker face.”

“I couldn’t get looked in the eye,” Nasella said.

Kevin Quinn, the brother of close Madigan associate and Alderman Marty Quinn, was later ousted from Madigan’s political organization after he was the target of sexual-harassment complaints. FBI agents recently raided Kevin Quinn’s residence.

Kuba also was a reluctant witness. He acknowledged accompanying a Madigan political operative, Gene Pagois, as Pagois solicited voter signatures for a Madigan opponent. While Pagois solicited the signatures, he arranged for Kuba’s name to be on the petitions, presumably because Kuba is not a part of Madigan’s political organization.

“Just the way it turned out,” Pagois explained about the signatures.

Madigan’s lawyers have raised a variety of defenses to Gonzales’ lawsuit. They have rejected the claim Madigan’s intended to dilute the Hispanic vote, claiming that Madigan would have done the same to any opponent regardless of race or sex.

They’ve argued the case is flawed because Madigan received 65 percent of the vote, substantially more than the three other candidates combined.

More interestingly, they’ve argued Gonzales has no evidence tying Madigan to the two additional candidates and argued that any measures taken by others to promote the two candidates were done “without knowledge or influence by Madigan.”

Jim Dey is a staff writer for The News-Gazette. His email is jdey@news-gazette.com.

Opinions Editor

Jim Dey is a staff writer for The News-Gazette. His email is jdey@news-gazette.com.