Avery’s Petition for Certiorari Shanks Due Process

If the expression “worser and worser” means anything outside of the world of Lewis Carroll, then it certainly applies to the participation of Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier in the decision overturning the $1+Billion decision rendered in favor of consumers in Avery v. State Farm Mutual Ins. Co. According to the Avery Plaintiff’s Petition for Certiorari filed with the U.S. Supreme Court, not only was Lloyd Karmeier’s election campaign heavily funded by direct and indirect contributions from the insurer and its associates, but Karmeier was actually recruited to run for the vacant seat on the Illinois Supreme Court bench by someone connected to State Farm. As a result of State Farm’s involvement in Karmeier’s election, Karmeier’s refusal to recuse himself from participating in the decision, and his role as the deciding vote-caster in that decision, the Avery Petition asserts that they were stripped of Due Process.

The Petition for Certiorari alleges that two people connected to the insurer, Bill Shepherd and Ed Murnane, and organizations founded by Murnane, including the Illinois Civil Justice League and its political action committee JUSTPAC, were well aware of the pendency of this lawsuit and the enormous economic impact it would have if the appellate decision were permitted to stand. It also quantifies massive contributions to Karmeier’s campaign from State Farm, JUSTPAC, and the Illinois and U.S. Chambers of Commerce.

Although the ICJL characterized support of Karmeier as a tort reform and clean-up-the-judicial-hell-holes issue, it really only seems to care about cases turning out in a pro-business fashion. Here is a telling quote from ICJL’s JUSTPAC page:

    JUSTPAC will work to provide support to judicial candidates who are committed to changing the judicial environment in Illinois, candidates who want to fix a broken system and restore honesty and fairness to a system that too frequently has been controlled by greedy personal injury and class action lawyers.

ICLJ doesn’t appear to actually care about what is objectively fair, despite its mission statement to the contrary. Hypocrisy is the death of justice, and the manner in which the Avery result was contrived isn’t justice. It was the hubris of manifest destiny.

Let’s take a look at capitalism gone awry and wonder how consumers can ever get justice in the “honest and fair system” some of these organizations desire to create.

According to the Petition, Karmeier raised and spent at least $4.8 Million in the election campaign. Here is how much of the contributions broke down as presented by the Petition:

State Farm and people/organizations directly connected with the lawsuit (employees, attorneys, Amici, and Amici attorneys) contributed $350,000;

JUSTPAC gave Karmeier $1,191,453 (which represented all but $500 in funds raised by the political action committee);

Illinois Chamber of Commerce contributed $269,338;

U.S. Chamber of Commerce contributed money to the Republican Party of Illinois of which $1,300,000 was funneled straight to Karmeier’s coffers. (If I understand the Petition correctly, State Farm employees served as Directors for both chambers.)

American Tort Reform Association contributed $415,000;

Illinois Coalition for Jobs, Growth and Prosperity gave $150,000;

Illinois Insurance Political Committee contributed $6,000. (The Petition says that State Farm was a member of and contributor to each one of these three additional contributors.)

Looking at the numbers, it is clear that Karmeier received $350,000 from persons/companies with a direct financial interest in the outcome of the suit, (i.e. a party and its supporters.)

Add in the money from JUSTPAC (which the Petition alleges not only had a connection to State Farm but is associated with the person who recruited Karmeier to run – at least in part, because he felt the Avery decision was unfair and should be overturned), the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (both of which ostensibly had State Farm employees serving as Directors) and you arrive at a whopping $3,110,791.

Put that together with the money from each of the three entities of which the Petition says State Farm was a member and contributor, and we top out at $3,681,791 – just about 75% of all of the money contributed to Karmeier’s campaign.

Now, I certainly don’t think that every penny of almost $4 Million was actually contributed by State Farm, but the involvement of a party to a significant pending case with so many of the major contributors to the campaign of a new Supreme Court Justice does more than raise a few eyebrows. It smells. And the smell is not a good one.

As I have said before Karmeier simply had no business participating in the Avery decision, and the fact that he cast the deciding vote that wiped the decision away as if it had never existed, is an absolute travesty of justice – as well as what I see as a blatant ethical violation, and in this I apparently have company from the authors of the SCOTUS blog.

Contrast the recruiting of Karmeier, the funding outlined, Karmeier’s refusal to voluntarily recuse himself from the Avery panel and absolute refusal to recuse himself when asked by one of the parties, the fact that he was not a member of the Supreme Court bench when the matter was accepted for review, briefed and argued, with Karmeier’s own statements quoted by Kevin McDermott in his article “All Eyes on the Fifth” in Illinois Issues, September 2004, which McDermott attributed to Karmeier’s campaign website:

    I think I am typical of most people from Southern Illinois when it comes to our system of justice. We want it to be fair. We want it to be impartial. We want a level playing field . . . We don’t want any hints or suggestions that our system of justice is being used or influenced by powerful politicians or by lawyers or by any special interest group.

If this is Karmeier’s idea of being typical of people from Southern Illinois and of not having “any hints or suggestions that our system of justice is being used or influenced . . . by lawyers or by any special interest group”, it really doesn’t say much for the land of Honest Abe. I’m glad I live somewhere else.

Special thanks to Ray Lehmann who wrote to me looking for a copy of the Petition and ended up providing it to me.

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