DeVore files defamation lawsuit against Pritzker over ‘grifter’ comment

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Governor JB Pritzker Photo: Blueroom Stream

For calling an attorney challenging his executive orders in court a “grifter,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker faces a summons in Sangamon County Circuit Court to answer to a defamation allegation.

Thomas DeVore, an attorney who has filed multiple lawsuits against the governor over COVID-19 vaccine mandates in schools and businesses, sued Pritzker late last month, claiming defamation. 

The case was filed in Sangamon County Oct. 29 by DeVore attorney Brian Polinske claiming the governor’s comment last month “constitute the commission of a tortious act.”

After a lawsuit DeVore filed on behalf of more than 700 parents against 145 school districts, the governor and the Illinois State Board of Education, the governor called DeVore a grifter.

“He’s a grifter who is taking money from parents who are being taken advantage of,” Pritzker said during an unrelated news conference on Oct. 21. “So I hope that you know the reign of grifting and terror that he is trying to bring about in the school districts will come to an end.”

Following those comments, DeVore said he was considering a defamation case against the governor.

“That’s an insult to each and every one of my clients that are trying to protect their children,” DeVore said last month. “Not only is it defamation against my character and my profession, it is an insult against every one of those parents who are trying to protect their children.”

The defamation case filed late last month claims Pritzker’s comments accuse DeVore of “being engaged in acquiring money or property illicitly” and provides the definition of the word “grift.”

“The defendant’s allegations that the Plaintiff is taking money from parents and taking advantage of his clients imputes that the plaintiff lacks integrity in performing his duties as a lawyer for some of his clients,” the filing said. “Plaintiff is not a grifter nor is he engaged in any behavior that would lead any reasonable person to believe he was illicitly taking money from clients.

“Nor would any reasonable person believe he was acting in any manner which could be construed as a reign of ‘terror’ by simply complying with lawyerly duties and filing a lawsuit on his clients’ behalf,” the lawsuit says.

DeVore is seeking judgment in his favor and an award of damages in excess of $50,000.

A hearing in the case number 2021-L-184 has yet to be scheduled. A demand for a jury trial has been filed by DeVore’s attorney. 

But the Capitol Fax political Website noted in an Illinois Supreme Court case, Blair v. Walker, 1976, that sitting governor’s have “executive immunity” in certain situations.

We hold that the Governor is protected from actions for civil defamation by an absolute privilege when issuing statements which are legitimately related to matters committed to his responsibility. […]

We emphasize that today’s decision is not an endorsement of either the tenor or the content of the defendant’s statements concerning the plaintiffs. The Governor’s position could undoubtedly have been expressed to the people with language less calculated to injure the plaintiffs’ personal and professional reputations. While it is unfortunate that the application of executive immunity may occasionally deny relief to a deserving individual, the sacrifice is justified by the public’s need for free and unfettered action by its representatives.

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