Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at a news conference Monday in Peoria.
(The Center Square) – The attorney who filed a slew of lawsuits in several different counties to have judges find there aren’t public health emergencies says counties need to be careful in enforcing social distancing and mask-wearing rules because he’s ready to file even more lawsuits.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker now faces lawsuits in several counties from attorney Thomas DeVore, who represents individuals and businesses seeking judges to declare there isn’t a public health emergency because of low numbers of COVID-19 deaths in those counties. DeVore said more lawsuits against the governor in other counties could be on the way.
The lawsuits filed Thursday were in Sangamon, Clinton, Bond, Richland and Edgar counties showing COVID-19 data that DeVore claims don’t rise to the level of an emergency. He amended the complaint tha state Rep. Darren Bailey has against the governor in Clay County to reflect the other challenges.
In the Sangamon County case, where DeVore is representing a salon owner, a gym owner and a restaurant owner, he said the state’s COVID-19 statistics show 0.363 percent of the county’s population has tested positive and 0.017 percent have died from COVID-19. He used similar numbers to show the statistics in other counties.
DeVore said he’s ready to file lawsuits in other counties across the state.
“I think that’s what people have been frustrated about, which has been tearing people apart for the better part of four months, is that whether or not that definition [of a public health emergency] is satisfied in Cook County or Chicago is for the good people of Cook County and Chicago, etc., the collar counties,” DeVore said. “That people in the other overwhelming majority 90-something counties, heck we’ve got 40-some counties … that don’t have one person that’s passed away [from COVID] in.”
The Illinois Attorney General’s office didn’t immediately respond to The Center Square but reportedly called DeVore’s lawsuits frivolous. DeVore did get a Clay County court to order the governor’s orders void but that case is still pending on appeal.
The day after DeVore filed the lawsuits against the governor, public health officials in Sangamon County announced increased efforts to enforce COVID-19 guidelines, including fines and license suspensions of businesses. They say there is a public health emergency.
“The Sangamon County Department of Public Health recognizes the danger to our citizens and has worked tirelessly to identify, control, and prevent the disease,” the department said in a statement. “The demographics of new positive cases have shifted drastically in recent weeks. In May, our biggest concern was our older population and congregated settings. While that concern has not disappeared, current data suggest that our focus needs to shift to our younger population in social settings.”
“Penalties for violation of [COVID-19 occupancy, social distancing and face covering requirements] include monetary fines, suspension or revocation of permit or license and potential closure of a business pursuant to existing County ordinances,” the county said. “We must take every precaution to prevent Sangamon County from reverting back to Phase 3, or worse, a second lockdown.”
While DeVore’s lawsuits are targeting the governor, he said he’ll sue local officials in Sangamon County and elsewhere if it comes to it.
“They can’t do it,” DeVore said. “These local health departments can close a business if it is a public health risk which is not because they’re not wearing a mask. If they want to try that in court, I’m ready. They can’t do these things.”
Pritzker’s administration on Friday put the counties of Adams, LaSalle, Peoria and Randolph in the “warning” category. The counties have reported an increase in cases and could face increased regulations.