Gordon E. Maag, who lost a costly and contentious race for Illinois Supreme Court justice in November, filed a $110 million defamation lawsuit against his campaign's detractors Dec. 20.
The lawsuit, filed in Madison County Circuit Court, names the Coalition for Jobs, Growth and Prosperity, its chairman Ronald Gidwitz and treasurer Gregory W. Baise, as well as the Illinois Chamber of Commerce as defendants.
Maag, of Glen Carbon, is represented by Rex Carr of East St. Louis. When exiting the courthouse after the suit was entered, Maag declined comment.
Voters who rejected Maag as a candidate expressed a desire for change, according to a spokesman for the Coalition for Jobs, Growth and Prosperity.
"We believe the lawsuit is without merit and will be proven false," said Gregg Durham on behalf of the coalition. "The parties that Maag is suing did nothing improper and did not defame candidate Maag."
The complaint states that a campaign flyer distributed in Madison and St. Clair counties in October, identified as, "Wheels of Justice," defamed and injured Maag's reputation. The flyer stated, "Gordon Maag’s record on crime: embarrassing-and dangerous.”
In the suit, Maag claims that the defendants knew the statements made in the flyer were false.
“In addition, the statements were published with reckless disregard of the truth; and furthermore, these statements and the publication containing the statements, in its entirety, were part and parcel of a continuing course of defamatory attacks on plaintiff’s reputation,” the complaint states.
Gidwitz, former Illinois State Board of Education chairman, has been raising his public profile in a potential run for governor on the Republican ticket. Baise has been named in published reports as a contender to succeed Judy Baar Topinka as Illinois Republican Party Chairman.
Gidwitz declined to comment for this story until he reads the complaint.
In addition to losing the race for the state's high court to Lloyd Karmeier, Maag also was not retained as an appellate judge in the 5th Judicial Circuit in the Nov. 2 election.
Illinois Civil Justice League President Ed Murnane said the lawsuit was "laughable."
"It's an insult to the voters of Madison County, of the 5th District," Murnane said. "I think the abuse of the judiciary was in part what the election was about. Maag demonstrates that he didn't get the message or why voters were saying it.
"Maybe he should sue Justice Karmeier for defeating him or sue the voters who voted against him."
Mike Lawrence, director of the Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, said he would be surprised if Maag ultimately prevailed.
"Courts provide a lot of license for groups engaging in political campaigns," he said. "It was a tough campaign. Justice Karmeier felt his blows as well.
"It underscores the need for us to change the system. We need to stop electing judges to the appellate court and supreme court."
Maag claims that as a result of the statements in the flyer--for which he is claiming damages of $10 million--he suffered personal humiliation, mental anguish and suffering. He claims that he has lost large sums of money in earnings from his prior position as appellate court judge and earnings from his profession, and has lost and will continue to lose health benefits and pension benefits.
Punitive or exemplary damages in the amount of $100 million are being sought because statements were false and malicious and defendants knew they were false, and intended to harm him, according to Maag.
Cindi Canary, director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, stated that the campaign was "extremely negative and malicious on both sides.
"From where I sit, both campaigns crossed the line," she said. "This underscores the need for reform of supreme court elections."