The Madison County Record Jan. 22, 2015, 3:01pm

EAST ST. LOUIS – Lawyers who claim State Farm fraudulently secured the election of Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier in 2004 cannot depose Karmeier, U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen Williams ruled on Jan. 16.

He wrote that a deposition raised concern for the dignity and integrity of Illinois courts, especially when “there is neither evidence nor allegation of wrongdoing.”

“Setting aside whether or not at some point plaintiffs may offer some evidence of Justice Karmeier’s complicity in the fraud alleged in the amended complaint, thus far they have offered nothing of the sort," Williams wrote.

He allowed lead plaintiff Mark Hale to serve 20 interrogatories on Karmeier, but he banned questions on Karmeier’s discussions about class actions.

Hale claims State Farm led a conspiracy to overturn a $1 billion judgment in a Williamson County class action, Avery v. State Farm.

Hale claims Karmeier should have recused himself from Avery.

He claims State Farm concealed its support of Karmeier from the Supreme Court.

He seeks triple damages, plus interest, for a total near $8 billion.

In 2013, Hale's lawyers advised State Farm that they planned to depose Karmeier.

Last year, they told Williams they would not depose him prior to the November election that would determine his retention.

After voters retained Karmeier, Hale served notice of intent to depose him.

Karmeier moved to quash the deposition, and Hale answered with a brief arguing that State Farm expected a favorable Avery vote as a consequence of its support.

Hale’s lawyers denied at a hearing that they alleged bribery, but Williams branded the brief as inflammatory.

In his order he wrote, “While plaintiffs claim to be offended at the suggestion that they are accusing Justice Karmeier of taking a bribe, their response brief seems to suggest as much.”

“Moreover, they have specifically accused Justice Karmeier of being a participant in the enterprise engaged in the fraudulent scheme alleged in their amended complaint,” Williams wrote.

Williams quoted a precedent that high officials should rarely be compelled to testify regarding the deliberative process used to arrive at a decision.

“Such examinations of judges are destructive to judicial responsibility and would disturb the integrity of the judiciary,” Williams wrote.

“In this case of a judge, this deliberative process privilege extends not only to a judge’s mental impressions but also to judicial deliberations.

“In Illinois, the deliberation privilege also extends to a judge’s discussions with his staff and other judges.”

Williams wrote that a party seeking to depose an official must show that the judge has personal involvement or first hand knowledge of the underlying dispute.

He also wrote that a party must show it can’t obtain the information elsewhere.

He wrote that the topics Hale proposed to explore all related to Karmeier’s decision not to recuse himself and the Supreme Court’s decision not to compel his recusal.

“The plaintiffs in this case seek de facto reversal of the decision not to recuse,” he wrote.

He wrote that they sought to conduct “an exploratory search for any evidence of bias on his part or undue influence from another.”

“What’s more, the scope of the intended topics potentially touches upon Justice Karmeier’s decision not to participate in any number of other cases, to include Price v. Philip Morris," he wrote.

Last year Karmeier denied a motion to recuse himself from the Supreme Court’s current review of the Price case, a $10 billion judgment from Madison County.

Williams distinguished Hale’s case from cases where parties have deposed officials with knowledge of personal injuries, discrimination or harassment.

“This case is different," Williams wrote. "Plaintiffs want to impeach a decision of Justice Karmeier and the Illinois Supreme Court.”

He wrote that to do otherwise than treat this case differently would invite abuse.

“It would suggest that any time a disgruntled litigant moved to recuse a judge based on a theory of improper outside influence, he could also compel the judge’s deposition,” Williams wrote.

"This would render courts vulnerable to frivolous attacks upon their dignity and integrity.”

He wrote that Hale could seek the same evidence from defendants.

In addition to State Farm, Hale alleges conspiracy against Illinois Civil Justice League director Ed Murnane and State Farm employee William Shepherd.

“In reality, if plaintiffs’ allegations are true, it only follows that every relevant fact they seek in discovery from Justice Karmeier is also within the personal knowledge of someone else," Williams wrote.

Williams gave Hale’s lawyers 30 days to serve interrogatories on Karmeier.

He wrote that he would allow questions on Karmeier’s knowledge of direct or indirect campaign support from State Farm.

He wrote that he would allow questions on communications between Karmeier and defendants on financing for his campaign or any aspect of Avery.

Williams manages discovery for District Judge David Herndon, who would preside at trial.

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