Gavel Grab

Illinois System for Choosing Judges 'Breaking Down': JAS

2003_IL_ProofWith independent spending against an Illinois Supreme Court justice rising in his retention election, Justice at Stake called attention to the situation and said, “The system for picking judges in Illinois is breaking down.”

Lloyd Karmeier’s 2004 fight against Gordon Maag for the Supreme Court set spending records at the time. Now Justice Karmeier is facing opposition in his retention bid from a group called Campaign for 2016. You can learn about the individuals funding it from earlier Gavel Grab posts.

“Interest groups are trying to buy courts, judges are raising money from parties who appear before them, and potential conflicts of interest are multiplying.  It’s no wonder that the public believes that justice is for sale,” JAS Executive Director Bert Brandenburg said in a statement on Thursday. Read more

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Karmeier Supporter Fires Back at Foes of Judge's Retention

Screen shot 2014-10-22 at 1.30.33 PMIllinois state Sen. Dave Leuchtefeld, a friend and supporter of Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier, said opposition to the justice’s retention has been headed up by plaintiffs’ attorneys who stand to benefit if the court rules their way in two class-action cases.

“For these attorneys, it’s just like putting money in the stock market. It’s an investment,” Leuchtefeld told the Belleville News-Democrat. Earlier this week, Gavel Grab mentioned TV advertising critical of Justice Karmeier aired by a group calling itself Campaign for 2016. According to the News-Democrat, “The anti-Karmeier commercial slams him for accepting campaign donations from businesses during his 2004 election campaign and ‘letting corporations buy justice.'” Read more

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Article: Group Against Retention of Karmeier Spends $561,700

An outside group calling itself Campaign for 2016 has spent $561,700 for TV advertising in opposition to Justice Lloyd Karmeier of the Illinois Supreme Court, who is seeking retention to a new 10-year term, according to the Madison-St. Clair Record.

George Zelcs, who practices law in Chicago and is associated with attorney Stephen Tillery of St. Louis, gave $300,000 to Campaign for 2016 in mid-October, the newspaper said.

The newspaper said Tillery “was on the losing end” of a major case involving Philip Morris. It continued, “In 2005, Karmeier was one of four justices who voted to overturn a class action judgment of about $10 billion in Price v. Philip Morris. Tillery would stand to collect approximately $1.8 billion in fees from the case.” Read more

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Karmeier Campaign Says Foe is 'Shadow' Group

Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier, seeking a new term in a retention (yes-or-no) election, is facing more than half a million dollars in opposition spending by a “shadow” group, according to a Karmeier campaign press release that is the subject of a Madison-St. ClairRecord article.

The group is named Campaign for 2016. “This is a complete shadow organization, because their leadership and funding sources are unknown,” said Karmeier’s campaign committee manager, Ron Deedrick. So far the incumbent’s campaign has raised $121,100 in individual campaign donations, according to the article.

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Justice Karmeier Won't Recuse; Donations in His Election at Issue

Justice Karmeier

Justice Karmeier

Justice Lloyd Karmeier of the Illinois Supreme Court has rejected a request by lawyers for plaintiffs suing Philip Morris to recuse himself from participating in an appeal on grounds there was a public perception he is biased, the Madison-St. Clair Record reported.

In a rare, 16-page order, Justice Karmeier explained his decision not to recuse and he “addressed the plaintiffs’ allegations he voted to overturn the $10.1 billion verdict against the tobacco company in 2005, the year after it funneled donations to his campaign for the high court,” the newspaper said. Read more

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Lawyers Seek to Depose Illinois Judge in Racketeering Lawsuit

Lawyers engaged in a federal racketeering lawsuit in Illinois are pushing to question under oath an unusual witness: Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier. The justice’s successful election in 2004 is central to the litigation.

According to commentary in the Sun-Times by Brett Chase of The Better Government Association, the lawsuit in federal court alleges that  State Farm, the insurance company, “secretly funded most of Karmeier’s campaign by channeling as much as $4 million in donations primarily through other groups.”

The commentary adds that State Farm “acknowledged that employees and others affiliated with the company gave about $350,000 to Karmeier’s 2004 campaign, but the company denies allegations of filtering additional money through satellite organizations.” Read more

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Top Illinois Judge Touts Importance of Judicial Diversity

honritagarmanIllinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Rita Garman discussed the importance of diversity in the judiciary when she addressed a local audience in Bloomington, Il. this week.

“We need judges who are from all parts of society,” Justice Garman told the McLean County League of Women Voters, according to The (Bloomington) Pantagraph. It is important for people who enter the courtroom to see judges of diverse backgrounds, she said. “The justice system must not only be fair but be perceived to be fair,” Justice Garman said.

To learn about Justice at Stake’s work to increase diversity on the bench, see the JAS web page about this issue.

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JAS on Historic Illinois Supreme Court Race: 'A Harbinger'

Justice Karmeier

Justice Karmeier

With some news media attention beginning to focus on a possible retention (up-or-down) election bid by Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier this year, Justice at Stake was quoted about the historic and costly 2004 race in which he first was elected.

“The Karmeier race turned out to be a harbinger of a trend that unfortunately has spread across the nation,” Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg told the Madison-St. Clair Record. The candidates raised $9.3 million, a national record at the time for a two-candidate race.

While retention elections typically have been less costly than contested elections, justices in some states have begun engaging in serious fundraising for retention elections. “I think the jury is still out on whether retention races will be overcome in the way (general) elections have been,” Brandenburg said.

Read more

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Diversity Milestone Marked for Illinois Appellate Courts

Judge Laura Liu of Cook County Circuit Court was to make history today when she assumes a seat on the Illinois first appellate court district, thereby becoming the first Asian American to sit on state appellate court.

Judge Liu is a former president of the Illinois Judges’ Association and a former president of the Chinese American Bar Association, according to Huffington Post.

“I know that I have a lot to learn and that this will be a new challenge,” Judge Liu said. “Having the support of experienced mentors that I respect and admire made all the difference in shaping my idea of how I wanted to serve in the courtroom.” Read more

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Ex-Judge: 'No Question' Campaign Cash Influences Courts

Just how much does it undermine public trust in impartial courts when members of a state Supreme Court have raked in millions of dollars in donations tied to stakeholders in a controversial case?

The Chicago Sun-Times pursued this question in a package of articles and an accompanying editorial surrounding the possibility the Illinois Supreme Court may ultimately consider a lawsuit challenging a historic pension-reform law.

According to one Sun-Times article, six of the court’s seven justice have received nearly a combined $3 million tied to stakeholders with an interest in the case, including business groups, labor unions, and a political committee controlled by state House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Democrat.

“Even the most honorable justice has to acknowledge this looks bad. It puts them in a bad light,” said David Yepsen,  director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University. Read more

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