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Lawyer tries county-by-county approach with COVID-19 lawsuits, Attorney General steps in

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SPRINGFIELD (WEEK) - The attorney helping a growing number of Illinoisans file lawsuits against Gov. JB Pritzker has changed his approach.

A few months ago, some of the individuals filing lawsuits asked for judges to block Pritzker's executive power over the entire state. Today, Tom DeVore represents several people asking courts whether their county is dealing with a public health emergency.

DeVore notes the Illinois Emergency Management Agency Act defines a disaster as an occurrence or threat of widespread or severe damage, injury or loss of life. He says that definition is improper for counties reporting low numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths. DeVore uses this argument as the fifth count of Rep. Darren Bailey's (R-Xenia) lawsuit against the governor. They argue Pritzker cannot say there is a disaster in Clay County, as only 10 people have tested positive for COVID-19, and no one has died from the coronavirus.

"If there's no disaster in Clay County, I can assure you I'm gonna have a client that's going to go to the Clay County school districts and say 'Let our kids in. You can't keep us in remote learning because it's not allowed.' There's no disaster," DeVore exclaimed.

DeVore believes judges should have their own decision on if there is a disaster locally.

"Then you can't have emergency power being wielded in that county. You can't have school districts engaging in remote learning in that county," DeVore said during a virtual interview Monday. "You can't be doing all this stuff because there is not a disaster."

DeVore filed lawsuits for clients in Clinton, Edgar, Richland, and Sangamon counties using this argument last week. He also presented his own case against the governor in Bond County. The number of cases grew Monday with cases filed in Montgomery, Kendall, Winnebago, Grundy, and White counties.

DeVore says he knows some judges may not agree with his assessment. Still, he feels each county should address the disaster definition head-on. He also argues local health departments can't enforce guidelines from the governor, as state lawmakers never passed a law requiring it.

Attorney General steps in

Meanwhile, The Illinois Attorney General's office filed a motion in the Illinois Supreme Court to transfer and consolidate the cases with a lawsuit currently pending in Sangamon County Circuit Court.

"We take our role as the state’s chief law enforcement officer and the responsibility to protect the people of Illinois and our constitution seriously – even when that means defending against lawsuits that are frivolous. More than 172,000 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed over the course of the pandemic," Spokeswoman Annie Thompson stated.

"While many individuals have fortunately recovered, many still suffer from long-term effects.  In addition, 7,416 individuals have lost their lives, and each life lost to COVID-19 is significant. We will continue to defend the governor’s constitutional and statutory authority to protect the health and wellness of all Illinois residents, which is why today we filed a motion to consolidate Mr. DeVore’s latest lawsuits."

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Mike Miletich

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