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).”
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.”