Plaintiffs lawyers: State Farm bought Karmeier's SC seat

Steve Korris Sep. 16, 2011, 12:00pm


SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (Legal Newsline) - State Farm Insurance bought Lloyd Karmeier a seat on the Illinois Supreme Court to escape a billion dollar judgment, according to lawyers who want the billion back.

Don Barrett of Lexington, Miss., who prevailed as class counsel at trial in Williamson County in 2001, petitioned to reopen the case on Sept. 8.

He and eight other lawyers claim new evidence requires recall of a mandate the Court issued in Avery v. State Farm, in 2005.

The decision overturned a jury verdict finding State Farm provided about five million persons with inferior parts for vehicle repairs.

The new petition pleads that "judgment in this case was procured through State Farm's concealment of a fraud on this court."

The lawyers wrote that "State Farm deliberately lied to and misled this Court."

They called on the other six justices to disqualify Karmeier from the proceedings.

The new evidence multiplies their old account of State Farm support for Karmeier's successful 2004 campaign from $350,000 to more than $3 million.

Their detective, Daniel Reece, added almost $2 million by treating Illinois Civil Justice League and its political action committee as components of Karmeier's campaign.

Reece added $1 million that State Farm sent to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

He counted it because the Chamber gave about $20 million to the Illinois Republican Party and the party contributed $1,922,294 to Karmeier's campaign.

According to the petition, State Farm lawyer Bill Shepherd was on an Illinois Civil Justice League committee that recruited Karmeier.

They wrote that Shepherd and CNA's Karen Melchert chose Ed Murnane to head the league in 1993.

They wrote that Shepherd and Melchert chose Murnane to run Karmeier's campaign.

"Led by Murnane, the ICJL was the glue that held together the pieces of State Farm's extraordinary efforts to have Justice Karmeier elected," they wrote.

They said the plaintiffs moved to recuse him in 2005, and State Farm opposed it.

They wrote that State Farm's opposition was "deceptively understated and downplayed not only the magnitude of its financial support, but also the degree of participation by its executives, surrogates, lawyers and employees in the minutiae of the campaign."

"Such a level of support unquestionably created a constitutionally unacceptable risk of bias," they wrote.

They said Murnane ran all phases of the campaign, talked to Shepherd every week, and informed Karmeier of significant events.

"Petitioners were, and remain, entitled, on due process grounds, to have all ofthese facts considered by this Court," they wrote.

They also wrote that Karmeier "needed State Farm's enormous financial and powerful political support to secure election to a seat on this Court and to retain that seat in the future."

"Afterall, career interests are also pecuniary objectives," they wrote.

To support the claim that Murnane managed the campaign, they attached an affidavit of the campaign manager, Douglas Wojcieszak.

He wrote that Murnane said the league rejected Republican candidates from Metro East and wanted someone from outside.

He said Citizens for Karmeier paid him but he reported to Murnane.

They also attached an affidavit of detective Reece, identifying himself as a former Federal Bureau of Investigation special agent in Knoxville, Tenn.

He wrote that State Farm used Illinois Civil Justice League to elect Karmeier and Karmeier knew it.

He said he couldn't procure affidavits of Murnane and others, and that State Farm didn't disclose that Shepherd was a founder of the league.

On Sept. 13, State Farm moved to extend the deadline for response to Oct. 19.

"The petition is an extraordinary pleading raising numerous allegations," wrote Robert Shultz of Edwardsville.

"State Farm submits that the petition is groundless and revisits issues that were finally adjudicated six years ago," he wrote.

One Illinois lawyer, Lloyd Chatfield of Lake Bluff, signed the petition.

Gordon Ball, Thomas Scott and Christopher Cain, all of Knoxville, signed it.

So did Patrick Pendley of Plaquemine, La.; former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson of Heritage, Tenn.; Thomas Jessee of Johnston City, Tenn.; and Michael Hausfeld of Washington.

Editor's note: Legal Newsline is owned by the Institute for Legal Reform, an affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

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