Gavel Grab

JAS on Illinois Court Retention Election: ‘Here We Go Again’

Screen shot 2014-10-29 at 11.25.59 AMWith Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier facing opposition in his retention election from a group heavily funded by plaintiffs’ lawyers, the Republican State Leadership Committee has jumped into the race and spent $950,000 in support of Karmeier, the Chicago Tribune reported. (The article is available through Google.)

“Here we go again,” Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg told the Tribune. Illlinois again has become a battleground state in a “long-running war being fought between plaintiffs’ lawyers and big business” over high courts, the newspaper said, mentioning a record $9.3 million spent when Justice Karmeier was elected in 2004.

Screen shot 2014-10-29 at 11.29.10 AMThe contest has featured fierce advertising. A TV ad aired by Campaign for 2016, the opposition group, said that Justice Karmeier received millions from pro-business interests in 2004 then voted to strike down huge verdicts against State Farm and Philip Morris. “Our justice is not for sale,” the narrator said at its end. The RSLC-sponsored ad says the justice has been tough on violent criminals and stood up to “Chicago trial lawyers who have tried to buy the courts.” Read more

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Editorial: Is Justice ‘For Sale to the Highest Bidder’?

law-cash-21816475With millions of dollars from special interest groups pouring into state judicial elections, a USA Today editorial joins a growing media outcry deploring the current trends and urging reform.

“At best, the system no longer appears fair. At worst, justice is for sale to the highest bidder,” the editorial laments. “Until more join up” with adoption of public financing for judicial elections, as have New Mexico and and West Virginia, the editorial says,
“anyone who goes to court will have to wonder whether the judge on the bench is handing down justice or repaying a favor.”

To back up its assertions about spending trends in judicial elections, the editorial linked to data compiled by Justice at Stake and partner organizations. Read more

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Report Digs Into ‘Secret Donations’ in Michigan High Court Race

In the countdown to Election Day, news media covering state judicial elections are finding plenty of contentious issues to examine, including the way judicial campaigns are funded and conducted:

  • WXYZ TV in Detroit aired an investigative piece entitled, “Politics, secret donations fuel Michigan Supreme Court races.” A bipartisan expert panel is urging reform that so high court candidates no longer go through the political parties to be elected, the newscast said, and some lawyers are trying to remove big spending out of the process. 
  • “The abortion issue has driven a partisan wedge in the otherwise non-partisan Supreme Court justice race in Northern Kentucky,” reported.
  • The Madison-St. Clair (Illinois) Record reported about an Illinois Supreme Court race, “Will Karmeier attack ads get through the ‘clutter?’ Observer says effect will be ‘minimal.'” Meanwhile the Southern Illinoisan reported, “Plaintiffs’ lawyers attack Justice Karmeier.”
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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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