Nearly $55,000 has made its way into the 5th District Appellate Court race since April and the majority of that money landed in Democrat Judy Cates' campaign coffers with the help of about a dozen Chicago lawyers and law firms.
Records from the Illinois State Board of Elections show that Cates' campaign committee received 17 contributions totaling $49,060.90 in the current reporting period, which began April 1 and ends June 30.
During this same time period, the campaign committee for Cates' Republican challenger, Stephen McGlynn, reported receiving $5,000 in the form of five separate donations.
Cates is a Swansea attorney and a past president of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association. McGlynn sits behind the St. Clair County bench on appointment. Messages and emails left for both candidates were not immediately returned Thursday.
Both Cates and McGlynn have experience running for the appellate court. McGlynn, who served a stint on the appellate court after voters chose not to retain Gordon Maag in 2004, lost his bid for the 5th District seat in 2006 to Bruce Stewart of Harrisburg. Cates lost her race for the downstate appeals panel in the 2008 primary election to James Wexstten of Mount Vernon.
Records show that 13 of the 17 most recent contributions to Cates' campaign came from individuals, law firms and other groups located outside of the 5th District.
Her biggest donation in the current reporting period - $10,000 - was made by California-based Farrise Law Firm, a trial lawyer firm that handles a variety of complex civil litigation matters, as well as asbestos and wrongful death cases.
Cates' committee also reported receiving $26,000 in separate donations from Chicago and River Forest trial lawyers at Cooney & Conway, which focuses its practice on asbestos, medical malpractice and personal injury matters.
Cates' committee reported having nearly $19,000, which included a $10,000 contribution from Simmons Law Firm in Alton, in its coffers as of March 31. McGlynn's campaign, however, has raised much less, reporting a $7,100 balance as of March 31.
Since then, McGlynn's campaign reported receiving $5,000 in contributions. Out of those five donations, records show that four came from residents and lawyers in the 5th District, as well as the campaign committee of Rep. Dwight Kay, R-Glen Carbon. The fifth donation was made by the campaign committee of Rep. Jim Watson, a Republican from Jacksonville, which is located in the 4th District.
Ed Murnane, president of the Illinois Civil Justice League (ICJL), said he expects more money will pour into the 5th District race as election season heats up. His group monitors judicial races throughout the state and typically provides candidate endorsements. The ICJL, which focuses its efforts on the civil justice system, was heavily involved in the campaign against Justice Thomas L. Kilbride's 2010 retention race.
"We are paying very close attention to this race," Murnane said of the 5th District race between Cates and McGlynn. "We have not gotten actively involved yet, but we certainly intend to. July will probably be busy for us."
The ICJL supported McGlynn when he ran against Stewart in 2006 and opposed Cates in her 2008 race against Wexstten. Although it has not formally announced its endorsements for the upcoming election, Murnane said he doesn't expect the group's position on the two candidates will change.
"This is probably not going to be a very difficult decision for us to make," he said. "I expect we will get involved in the McGlynn campaign and raise some money for him."
Murnane said the race for the open appellate court seat could prove to be extremely important in a few years. With Supreme Court Justice Lloyd A. Karmeier's term ending in 2014 and no word on his future plans, Murnane said justices on the 5th District Appellate Court could find themselves in a perfect position to run an aggressive campaign for the state high court.
When asked why he believes the majority of Cates' recent contributions came from outside the 5th District, Murnane said "the trial lawyers in Chicago haven't had to deal with her before and want to see that seat held by a trial lawyer friendly justice."
"Trial lawyers want her on the court because they think she will be favorable to them, rather than someone like McGlynn, who is viewed as a conservative Republican," he said.
As one of the Chicago trial lawyers who contributed to Cates' campaign, Larry Rogers of Power, Rogers & Smith, said he donated $2,500 because "I think she would make an excellent justice."
Rogers said he knows Cates through ITLA, which he also led as a past president, but more importantly, considers her "a good friend."
He said Cates is an excellent trial lawyer who is well respected throughout the state and would bring fairness and a solid understanding of the law to the bench.
Messages left for several other campaign contributors in this race were not returned Thursday.