Political patronage suit filed against Blagojevich in federal court

Steve Gonzalez Aug. 10, 2006, 10:05am

Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich

Two state prison officials filed suit in federal court against Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich alleging the governor attempted to fire them because they aren't political supporters.

"The actions were such a blatant misuse of public power and authority that such conduct was distinctly actionable," according to a complaint filed by Tamms Correctional Center employees Gregory Gossett and Phil Atherton.

Gossett and Atherton, who claim they are prominent members of the Republican Party, claim Blagojevich and his administration routinely give state jobs and contracts to Democratic political supporters.

The plaintiffs claim Blagojevich and his appointees attempted to discharge them for not being supporters of the political party in power and deprived them of their First Amendment rights.

"Defendants knew of each plaintiff's political affiliation with the Republican Party and their lack of Democratic political sponsorship and were motivated to terminate their employment because they were not 'political allies' of the Democratic administration," the complaint states.

The plaintiffs also claim Blagojevich unlawfully deprived them of their respective property interests by implementing excessive discipline based on their political association.

"Defendants intentionally used their positions of power and influence over the Plaintiffs and made unsubstantiated and unjustified personal attacks on the Plaintiffs that, under the circumstances, amounts to extreme and outrageous conduct," the complaint states.

They claim they suffered extreme and severe emotional distress, humiliation, embarrassment, and each of enjoyment of life and will continue to suffer in the future.

Gossett and Atherton are seeking compensatory and punitive damages in an amount to be determined at trial, a judgment to enjoin each and every defendant from further violating their First Amendment rights of speech and association and attorney fees.

They are represented by Shari R. Rhode of Carbondale.

The case has been assigned to District Judge David Herndon.

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