Karmeier elected state’s Chief Justice; ‘dark money’ case gets class action status

Karmeier receives unanimous support of fellow justices, but court case into his initial election pushes forward

Staff Report 

The Illinois Supreme Court announced today that Justice Lloyd A. Karmeier will be its next Chief Justice after being unanimously elected to the office by his fellow justices.

Karmeier will serve a three-year term commencing October 26. He succeeds Rita B. Garman, whose tenure as Chief Justice ends October 25.

An installation ceremony honoring Karmeier’s election as Chief Justice will be held at the Supreme Court Building in Springfield on Monday, October 31. Garman will administer the oath of office.

Karmeier will be this State’s 120th Chief Justice and the second person from Washington County to hold that office. Justice Byron O. House, for whom Karmeier served as a law clerk, was the first.

“I appreciate the confidence shown by the other members of the court in electing me to this position,” said Karmeier in a statement. “Since joining the court in 2004, I have had the privilege of serving under five different chief justices, all of whom have done an outstanding job. I will do my very best to live up to the high standard they have set.”

Meanwhile, a federal case centered around payments alleged to have benefitted Karmeier’s election to the court in 2004 has received class action certification.

“An Illinois federal judge late Friday granted class certification to plaintiffs representing 4.7 million State Farm policyholders involved in a complex Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (‘RICO’) regarding an alleged scheme involving campaign contributions being poured into an Illinois Supreme Court justice’s race to influence the reversal of a $1.05 billion decision,” says a release from the Clifford Law Offices of Chicago.

According to the complaint, State Farm and related defendants allegedly “perpetrat[ed] a scheme through an enterprise specifically designed to defraud Plaintiffs and Class out of a $1.05 billion judgment.”

Per Clifford’s, “That ‘scheme’ allegedly involved the defendants orchestrating a ‘dark money’ network of campaign contributions to the campaign committee of Justice Lloyd A. Karmeier for the Illinois Supreme Court who would be sympathetic to State Farm’s position in the $1.05 billion class action, and then misleading and lying to the Court about its clandestine and sizeable involvement in contributions to Karmeier’s contested election.”

Avery v. State Farm involved damages to claimants’ cars being repaired with non-factory authorized or non-original equipment manufacturer or OEM parts when they were led to believe that they were factory authorized, as customer’s State Farm policies provided. The case covers a period between 1987-1998.

That case, which began as a class action suit in 1997, was ultimately decided by the state Supreme Court after Karmeier had taken his place on the bench.

Karmeier’s contested election for an open seat on the Court during the November 2004 election saw some of the highest spending in history for a judicial election, and his recruitment for the position involved someone “who would support State Farm once its appeal came before the [Illinois Supreme] Court for disposition,” according to pleadings.

Karmeier admitted following a verdict in the case in favor of State Farm that he had cast the deciding vote.

The pending class action case alleges that State Farm contributed millions to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce which then sent the money back to PACs and the Illinois Republican Party for use in Karmeier’s campaign.

“Plaintiffs allege Karmeier’s participation in that case and his apparent lack of objectivity tainted the tribunal that resulted in the reversal by the Illinois Supreme Court,” said Clifford’s. The lawsuit states that had Karmeier recused himself, a split vote in the seven-member Court would have seen the original verdict rendered against State Farm stand.

“The Illinois Constitution clearly provides that four votes are required to reverse the decision of an appellate court,” said Robert A. Clifford, founder and senior partner of Clifford Law Offices in Chicago and co-lead counsel of the class action matter. “In the absence of four votes, the Illinois Constitution provides that the decision of the appellate court stands, which in this matter would have resulted in affirming the $1.05 billion verdict.”

In a 29-page written opinion issued Friday, U.S. District Court Judge David R. Herndon said that in certifying the class, “the Court agrees with plaintiff that all questions of law and fact are common as to the putative class: did defendants act in concert over a period of time to select and elect Justice Karmeier and to fraudulently conceal the nature and the scope of their involvement to enable and defend his participation in Avery.

Herndon previously ruled in June that plaintiffs’ experts, including a judicial election expert as well as a forensic accounting expert who valued the case to now be worth $7.6 billion, could testify as expert witnesses during an expected trial.

The defendants in the RICO certified class action are State Farm; Edward Murnane, President of the Illinois Civil Justice League (ICJL); and William G. Shepherd, employee/lobbyist of State Farm and ICJL Executive Committee Member.

Karmeier’s disbanded election committee remains associated in the enterprise, according to last week’s filings.

The parties are expected to be before Judge Herndon Oct. 15 in St. Louis for a status on the case.

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