Plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Philip Morris USA have asked Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier for a second time to recuse himself from hearing the appeal of an earlier decision. An article in Crain’s Chicago Business (available through a Google search) explains the case and the latest developments.
The recusal request questions Justice Karmeier’s impartiality and is based in part on a $500,000 contribution from The Altria Group (parent company of Phillip Morris) to the Republican State Leadership Committee in 2014. Two weeks later, the RSLC put $950,000 into independent campaign ads supporting Karmeier’s successful reelection effort. The plaintiffs say the Altria donation came “a few weeks after the court decided to hear Phillip Morris’ appeal,” and accounted for 60 percent of the $1.2 million the RSLC ultimately spent on Karmeier’s behalf. Altria issued a statement saying the donation was given after ensuring “both orally and in writing that our contributions could not be used in judicial elections.” (See Gavel Grab.)
Altria’s only other known contribution to the RSLC was about $225,000 in 2013.
Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner of Illinois announced in his State of the State address his support for moving toward a merit-based judicial selection system in the state. Here is the pertinent sentence, tucked amid a discussion of campaign finance reforms:
“And, in time, we should take another step towards trustworthy government by prohibiting trial lawyer donations to elected judges, and move toward merit-based judicial reform as supported by the American Bar Association.”
“Pass a constitutional amendment to create merit-based judicial selection as supported by the American Bar Association (2018 ballot).”
Editorial pages in Illinois and Oregon are tackling the need for reform to keep cash and politics out of judicial selection, with calls for cleaning up the election process or eliminating it by switching to merit selection.
In Illinois, a piece on the Pantagraph.com website raised the alarm about high spending in the recent retention campaign of Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier. “Illinois could remove the smudge of campaign money and attack ads from our courts by having an independent commission appoint all judges through a merit-based process — an idea that’s been around for a long time,” the piece suggests. Failing that, the article suggests that if the state retains partisan elections for its justices it could move to public financing of campaigns as a “partial solution.”
Karmeier was originally elected in a partisan race in 2004. He was retained for a second term in a costly 2014 campaign, in which interest groups spent heavily for and against him.
Meanwhile, an op-ed for The Oregonian by two former state Supreme Court justices urges a change to merit selection for Oregon. Although Oregon’s nonpartisan judicial races have not suffered from heavy spending in recent years, the writers warn that record-smashing spending in 2014 judicial races around the country could come to the state in the future. “Now is the time to rethink how we select judges in Oregon — before we face a public confidence crisis,” they write. A number of state reform advocates are urging legislators to advance a proposed constitutional amendment in favor of merit selection.
For defenders of fair and impartial courts, the 2004 and 2014 elections of Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier provide one of the most intriguing ongoing stories around. Now there are two new reports of interest, an anatomy of the 2014 election and a court update about his antagonists’ effort to depose him.
The lengthy analysis of the 2014 retention election, which Justice Karmeier won narrowly after facing a late-hour opposition drive, is available at WUIS.org. It is entitled, “Supreme Tort: The Campaign To Fire Justice Lloyd Karmeier.” This week’s courthouse news article comes from the Madison-St. Clair Record and is headlined, “Plaintiffs in Hale v. State Farm cannot depose Karmeier; Magistrate: ‘such examinations would disturb integrity of judiciary.'” Read more
An opinion piece by Joan Claybrook in Chicago Business asks whether “dark money” campaign contributions can lead to the Illinois Supreme Court being bought.
Claybrook sites Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier as an example of a candidate who has benefited from “dark money.”
“Elected in 2004 in a campaign with record expenditures of dark money in which corporate interests spent almost $5 million to unseat a judge considered to be plaintiff-friendly, Karmeier then cast deciding votes reversing judgments in two controversial cases, Avery v. State Farm and Price v. Philip Morris,” the piece states.
Claybrook also points to the lack of recusal rules and transparency as a way that campaigns are being negatively impacted by non-disclosed money. She ends by saying, “State Supreme Courts must require all litigants to disclose campaign money they contributed directly or through third parties to a judicial election when a case is filed or answered. It’s the only way the people can be assured of an independent judicial system—one of the cornerstones of our democracy.”
Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier, who narrowly won retention when voters went to the polls in November (see Gavel Grab), has criticized those who funded a costly ouster campaign.
At an awards event for another judge, Justice Karmeier called the effort “a smear campaign of the worst sort and a direct challenge to the integrity and independence of the courts,” according to the Madison-St. Clair (Il.) Record.
He said the anti-retention drive came from “a handful of lawyers from Chicago and from some other states who stood to profit financially by reshaping the makeup of the court.” Read more
Citing Missouri billionaire Rex Sinquefield’s $300,000 donation to a Washington, D.C. group that tried to defeat a local Missouri judge, a St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial asks Sinquefield for more transparency and less deceit.
In an editorial styled as a letter to Sinquefield, the editorial board asks, “Could you please instruct your vast army of political operatives to stop being deceitful about how they spend your money?” It acknowledges that on some issues it agrees philosophically with the activist donor, but “When you — or the people who work for you — secretly funnel money into Washington, D.C., political action committees to hide the source of the funds, it looks really sneaky and underhanded.”
The letter refers to money Sinquefield gave to the Republican State Leadership Committee and its spending that amount and more to defeat Cole County Circuit Judge Pat Joyce, who ultimately won reelection in November (see Gavel Grab). It says “your spokespeople wouldn’t fess up. Neither would the RSLC.” Read more
In a Chicago Tribune op-ed, lawyer Robert A. Clifford says he and other attorneys who contributed heavily to oppose the retention of Illinois Justice Lloyd Karmeier did so with public disclosure, whereas those who bankrolled Karmeier in 2004 and this year were cloaked in secrecy.
“Insurance companies and large corporations have funneled money through organizations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce so that the specific identities of the donors remain anonymous. Voters can’t find out who funneled money to the organizations for those purposes,” Clifford writes.
“How can voters make an informed decision about who should be on the Illinois courts if they don’t have all of the facts?”
A day ago, Gavel Grab mentioned Clifford’s efforts to depose Justice Karmeier in connection with a racketeering lawsuit against State Farm. The lawsuit contends that the insurance company funded a multimillion-dollar campaign a decade ago to elect Karmeier to the Supreme Court. Read more
Could an attorney who invested $150,000 in an unsuccessful effort to defeat Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier end up deposing him in a client’s case?
A Madison-St. Clair (Il.) Record article raises that possibility in reporting on a pledge by Chicago lawyer Robert Clifford to act with courtesy if he is allowed to depose the jurist. Justice Karmeier has asked a federal magistrate to block or limit the deposition, and Clifford made his statement to the magistrate in opposition to Justice Karmeier’s stance. Read more
An economic analysis supportive of replacing partisan judicial elections with a merit selection system ought to “resonate” with Republican supermajorities in the Alabama legislature, a Montgomery Advertiser editorial says.
The analysis of John A. Dove of Troy University in Alabama was the subject of a recent Gavel Grab post. Dove asserts that Alabama’s legal system is overrun by politics, and it would help boost the economy and job creation to reduce politics in the courtroom by replacing partisan judicial elections with merit selection.
The editorial notes that that it is far from that newspaper’s first to call for consideration of merit selection, but philosophical arguments have not won over legislators. Perhaps an economic argument will have greater influence, it says: Read more