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DeVore wants to see Pritzker in court for defamation following ‘grifter’ comment, experts say case has no merit

Gov. JB Pritzker called DeVore a grifter on October 21. He also said DeVore is taking money...
Gov. JB Pritzker called DeVore a grifter on October 21. He also said DeVore is taking money from parents who were taken advantage of.(Mike Miletich)
Published: Nov. 12, 2021 at 6:34 PM CST|Updated: Nov. 12, 2021 at 6:36 PM CST
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SPRINGFIELD (WGEM) - Gov. JB Pritzker is facing a new challenge in the courts. The Southern Illinois attorney who frequently represents parents fighting against COVID-19 mandates sued Pritzker for defamation.

You may remember Tom DeVore from many lawsuits challenging Pritzker’s authority throughout this pandemic. When the Capitol Bureau asked the governor to respond to a lawsuit with hundreds of parents challenging masks in schools, Pritzker called DeVore a grifter.

Let’s roll back the tape to October 21.

Miletich: “What do you have to say about his assault against your mandates?”

“Well, you know, he’s a grifter who is taking money from parents who are being taken advantage of,” Pritzker said.

DeVore says he has no problem with disagreements over policy and COVID-19 mandates. However, he argues Pritzker went too far with that statement.

Both men have gone back and forth with name-calling over several months since DeVore filed the first lawsuit against COVID-19 mitigations for Sen. Darren Bailey (R-Xenia).

DeVore claims his clients trust him and respect his work. The candidate for an appellate court seat also says he has never accused Pritzker of stealing.

“I’ve accused him of making horrible policy decisions,” DeVore said. “And I will continue to do so. But again, I’m taking issue with him as a politician. He’s taking issue with me in my professional capacity as an attorney. It’s not the same thing.”

However, this won’t be an easy case for DeVore. Many believe his lawsuit doesn’t stand a chance in court.

Attorney Don Craven explained Pritzker has absolute immunity due to an Illinois Supreme Court decision from 1976. Former governor Dan Walker had issued press releases with alleged statements of libel against two real estate brokers who were also attorneys.

Allan Blair and David Gray believed Walker made malicious statements about them and knew they were false. However, the highest court said executives need to exercise their duties free from civil liabilities for statements they make.

“So the use of the word grifter, even without the issue of absolute immunity, it’s simply name-calling. Perhaps it’s inartful name-calling, perhaps very artful name-calling,” Craven said. “But name-calling is not defamatory either.”

DeVore fully expects a Sangamon County judge to site the 1976 case against his argument. However, he feels Pritzker only tried to marginalize efforts from his clients standing up for themselves.

“Fear and intimidation can paralyze people,” DeVore said. “When they’re watching the governor of the state of Illinois attack their lawyer, he’s trying to create a chilling effect. That chilling effect needs to be stopped. The courts need to say no, he can’t do that.”

Pritzker Press Secretary Jordan Abudayyeh said the administration believes this case has no merit.

Craven agrees with that assessment.

“There’s no damage to his reputation by what the governor said,” Craven explained. “There’s also a very good question about whether or not that was a statement of fact. What’s a grifter? It’s not necessarily a criminal. An argument could be made that it’s just a statement of opinion.”

DeVore is seeking $50,000 in damages. There is not a court date set at this time.

“Going around and suing school districts, and the governor, and the Attorney General, and everybody else in order to keep people less safe, that makes zero sense to me. So we’re gonna push back as hard as we can,” Pritzker said on October 21. “Certainly, we’ll be in court.”

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