A group of active and retired Illinois state judges is condemning “incendiary” special interest group attacks on a sitting state Supreme Court justice as outright false and threatening judicial independence.
Special interest groups seeking to oust Justice Thomas Kilbride in a November retention election “have resorted to ugly misrepresentations and falsehood” of his opinions, and these groups “pose a direct threat to fairness and impartiality of all Illinois judges,” the Illinois Judges Association warned Friday in a highly unusual statement.
Justice Kilbride was part of a 4-2 majority in February 2010 that overturned limits on medical malpractice awards—the third time the court has taken such a position.
The high court’s incoming chief justice, he has drawn fierce opposition from business-allied groups. JUSTPAC, a group affiliated with the Illinois Civil Justice League, ran a radio ad featuring actors who portray vicious criminals and thank the judge for allegedly siding “with us over law enforcement or our victims” (see Gavel Grab).
Here are excerpts from the statement by the Illinois Judges Association, a nonpartisan group with 1,100 members:
“The special interest groups trying to oust incoming Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court Tom Kilbride in his retention election pose a direct threat to fairness and impartiality of all Illinois judges. Through the use of deceptive and slick marketing, those sullying Justice Tom Kilbride are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for their own ideological and political ends at the expense of the touchstone of the American legal system – a judiciary independent of all influences and interests.
“The Illinois Judges Association opposes any effort to ‘get’ judges for doing their jobs. It undermines the ability of judges to carry out their judicial functions. It constitutes a dangerous intrusion upon independent judicial decision-making. And it is a blatant affront to everyone that the judiciary serves.
“The public rightly demands that judges decide cases based on the law, not policy, popularity, or political views. As John Adams declared in the Declaration of Rights of the Massachusetts Constitution, ‘It is the right of every citizen to be tried by judges as free, impartial and independent as the lot of humanity will admit.’ Yet, the incendiary attacks on Justice Kilbride seek nothing of the sort. To achieve their ends, special interest groups have resorted to ugly misrepresentations and falsehood of Justice Kilbride’s opinions. What political motive do they have? Playing politics with a judge’s record, distorting it for political reasons, is unfair and dishonest.”
The statement urges voters to find out the truth about Justice Kilbride’s record and cautions, “Once we allow judges to become intimidated or become mere tools of individuals or groups wanting to assert their own interests, to paraphrase Alexander Hamilton, the constitution is a dead letter. And, it might be said, so are our American values of justice.”
Earlier the Illinois Star Bar Association said the JUSTPAC attack on Justice Kilbride was “inappropriate and distorts his record.”
Meanwhile Ed Murnane, treasurer of JUSTPAC and head of Illinois Civil Justice League, said, “Our central issue is to remove Thomas Kilbride from the bench.” He added, “We will do whatever we feel is legal and we will be using whatever means necessary and whatever issues will have an impact on voters,” according to a Chicago Tribune article.
According to the article, “the real aim of the Illinois Civil Justice League is to dump a judge they see as unwilling to stop large jury awards given to plaintiffs in malpractice and other negligence lawsuits.” Justice Kilbride has said he labeled the attacks “lies and distortions” in his own TV ad (see Gavel Grab).
This week, Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice, two nonpartisan groups, reported that Justice Kilbride had raised nearly $2.1 million toward his reelection, and the Illinois Civil Justice League had raised $561,000. The combined $2.6 million is extraordinary for a retention election, and the Illinois bout has become the nation’s most expensive one-candidate retention election in this decade, the groups said.