Illinois Court Spares Philip Morris a Big Verdict, for Now

There is a new milestone in multi-billion dollar anti-tobacco litigation that has figured centrally in big judicial election spending in Illinois. On Wednesday, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled again in favor of tobacco company Philip Morris, sparing it a $10.1 billion judgment at least for now, according to NPR Illinois.

Justice Lloyd Karmeier voted in the 4-2 majority. The high court said, according to Reuters, that “lower-level state courts lacked authority under Illinois law to reimpose the verdict first rendered in 2003 against Philip Morris, a unit of Altria Group Inc that makes Marlboro cigarettes,” and the high court also said “the plaintiffs could still ask the Illinois Supreme Court itself to reinstate the award, which it had thrown out in 2005.” Karmeier voted then to invalidate the award against Philip Morris.

When Karmeier ran for retention (yes-or-no) election last year, a $3 million spending battle “was largely linked  to interests with a connection” to this ongoing litigation, Justice at Stake and two partner organizations reported in the recently released Bankrolling the Bench: The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2013-14. 

Bankrolling the Bench said: “Funneling money into efforts to oust Karmeier in 2014 was a new group called ‘Campaign for 2016,’ created less than a month before Karmeier’s retention election and funded entirely by a group of plaintiffs’ lawyers and firms. During the PAC’s short existence, these lawyers and law firms poured over $2 million into the fund for the express purpose of campaigning against Karmeier—with 85 percent of the funding coming from lawyers and law firms that were representing the plaintiffs in the Philip Morris case.

“On the other side was Philip Morris. The company denies playing any role in the state Supreme Court election. However, it donated, through its parent company Altria, a total of $500,000 to the [Republican State Leadership Committee] between October 6 and October 8, 2014, just a few weeks after the Illinois Supreme Court agreed to hear the plaintiffs’ appeal, in addition to making earlier contributions in 2013 and 2014 of more than $230,000. … Within three and a half weeks of Altria’s donations, the RSLC gave over $978,000 to its Illinois affiliate, which in turn spent this same amount supporting Karmeier, mostly through TV ads.”

Campaign donations in support of Karmeier’s election in 2004 also fueled controversy. You can read in Gavel Grab about Karmeier’s refusing a request to recuse in the case. There was also coverage from the Madison County Record and The Associated Press.