Earlier this month, the Illinois Supreme Court spared tobacco maker Philip Morris a $10.1 billion judgment, at least for now, as Gavel Grab has mentioned. This week, NPR Illinois aired some questions, involving the case and judicial elections, that trouble defenders of impartial courts.
NPR focused on the vote in the court majority opinion of Justice Lloyd Karmeier, who was targeted with heavy spending in his retention election just last year from lawyers and law firms representing plaintiffs suing Philip Morris. A report coauthored by Justice at Stake said recently, “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.”
“Justice Rules Against Lawyers Who Tried to Defeat Him,” the NPR headline said, continuing, “Ideology has long been at the heart of high-profile judicial battles, whether the judges are elected or appointed. But is it different when the fight puts a specific case on the line?” Read more
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. Read more
Three circuit judges in St. Clair County, Il. have signaled they will seek another term on the bench by standing for election next year rather than for retention, as the state Constitution outlines, according to a MadisonRecord.com article.
The article suggests the judges are taking an unusual though not entirely unprecedented electoral path after seeing Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier barely secure the required 60 percent voter approval threshold when he sought retention in 2014. Read more
In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:
- The Telegraph reports that Travis Akin, executive director of Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch, angered some legal experts when he called Madison County, Illinois a “judicial hellhole.” Akin believes the legal environment in the county discourages businesses from relocating there.
- According to philly.com, some candidates for lower courts in Pennsylvania are planning to contest the election results from Tuesday’s election.
- Arkansas Online reports that Special Circuit Judge David Laser of Jonesboro ruled that a case against two men accused of bribing Arkansas Judge Michael Maggio should proceed. Maggio pleaded guilty to the charges against him in January.
Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner probably couldn’t prove his remark this week that the state Supreme Court is part of a “corrupt” system (see Gavel Grab), a Chicago Sun-Times editorial says, but cynicism is bred by the millions of dollars flowing into judicial elections and reform ought to be considered.
“Merit selection of judges, the favored alternative of reformers, eliminates the need to raise campaign funds,” the editorial points out. “Judges are beholden to nobody’s wallet. Merit systems usually involve a commission that produces a list of qualified names from which political leaders or voters select new judges.”
The editorial slams sums poured into recent judicial races that “would embarrass a bagman from the 1980s Operation Greylord court scandal,” and it concludes, “From cases of petty crime to big constitutional questions, judicial decisions go down better with the public when there is no checkbook in the courtroom.” Read more
Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican, told a suburban newspaper editorial board this week, “I don’t trust the [Illinois] Supreme Court to be rational in their decisions.” He added, “I think they’re activist judges who want to be legislators.”
A Chicago Tribune article said Rauner made his remarks as part of a trip around the state to promote his theme that the state government is corrupt and needs “structural reform.” Rauner earlier called for consideration of a move toward merit-based judicial selection in Illinois (see Gavel Grab).
In response to a question, Rauner told the Daily Herald that he believes the court is part of a “corrupt” system. “We have a system where we elect our judges, and the trial lawyers who argue cases in front of those judges give campaign cash to those judges. It’s a corrupt system,” he said. Read more
For the second time, the Illinois Supreme Court has rejected a request by a plaintiff’s attorney to disqualify Justice Lloyd Karmeier from participating in hearing an appeal involving Philip Morris USA, according to the Madison-St. Clair Record.
Meanwhile, “The Court also indicated that a motion for his recusal has been referred to Karmeier,” the newspaper reported. Read more
In a rare occurrence, Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier has been ordered to testify in a civil case that involves State Farm Insurance’s involvement in his election campaign.
According to Crain’s Chicago Business, Karmeier can be questioned under oath, “as to his knowledge concerning all aspects of his campaign including his decision-making process for running for the position in the first place and the persons with whom he consulted to make that decision, how the campaign was managed, how the campaign was financed, who was involved in the decision-making and strategy of the campaign.”
Karmeier has also been in the spotlight recently for his alleged ties to the parent company of Philip Morris USA, which has a multibillion-dollar case before the state Supreme Court. He has been asked to recuse himself from that case (see Gavel Grab.)
The State Farm case was filed in 2012 in U.S. District Court in East St. Louis and seeks $8 billion in damages.
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).”