Kilbride prevails in costly retention election

Ann Knef Nov. 2, 2010, 8:41pm


Illinois Supreme Court Justice Thomas Kilbride has been retained to a second 10-year term.

Kilbride was retained with 68 percent of the vote in the 21-county 3rd Judicial District that stretches west from Rock Island County to Kankakee County in the east. He needed at least 60 percent to win the one-person retention race.

Since July, Kilbride's campaign committee raised more than $2.6 million to fend off a challenge from a pro-business group critical of his record on jobs, crime and vote to overturn the state's medical malpractice law.

More than $3.2 million was spent by both sides, which made it the second most expensive judicial retention race in the country's history.

A national watchdog group has been highly critical of what it calls special interest funding of judicial campaigns.

"Pressure on impartial justice is growing," said Bert Brandenburg, executive director of the Justice at Stake Campaign. "Judges are facing more demands to be accountable to interest groups and political campaigns instead of the law and the constitution."

Justice at Stake has been particularly critical of the "extraordinary" spending in Kilbride's race. It also pointed to a "tasteless" ad that attacked Kilbride's record on crime.

"In Illinois, special-interest money bought one of the most tasteless TV ads ever appeared in a court election, while a sitting justice raised millions of dollars from plaintiffs' lawyers and other parties who will appear in court," Brandenburg said.

At least $1.4 million of Kilbride's contributions had come from the state Democratic Party. He also was supported by unions.

The Illinois Civil Justice League (ICJL) led the effort to oust Kilbride. ICJL's political action committee raised close to $670,000, with contributions coming mainly from business interests.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce contributed $150,000 to the anti-retention campaign.

The Madison County Record is owned by the Institute for Legal Reform, an affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Kilbride was one of four justices who voted in February to overturn the state's medical malpractice law.

After the 4-2 court decision, which knocked down a 2005 state law that capped non-economic "pain and suffering" damages against hospitals and doctors, Kilbride became an election target for the medical and business communities.

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