Imagine living in a community demoralized by a culture of corruption, where some partisan judges provide a veneer of respectability for a number of unscrupulous lawyers who seek to enrich themselves by threatening successful businesses with bogus lawsuits.

Picture long-established, thriving enterprises forced to pay tribute to undeserving protagonists in out-of-court settlements or risk impoverishing themselves in protracted legal battles and having to close their doors.

Now ask yourself: What could anyone do about it? When a community has sunk so low that corruption is frequent, how do you go about restoring it to moral health?

One way would be to target the most brazen judges, try to get them disbarred or voted out of office at election time, and replace them with men and women of sound character.

After all, without partisan judges to support greedy lawyers, going to court would not be so daunting a prospect for defendants who believe they have been targeted for quick buck shakedowns. Fair, speedy trials and predictable victories for the intended prey would soon persuade predators to practice their unproductive craft elsewhere.

For Metro East residents, this scenario is not difficult to visualize. It’s no thought experiment for us. It’s what we’ve seen too often for too long.

Many of  the elements of the scenario are captured in Hale v. State Farm (nee Avery v. State Farm), a 17-year-old lawsuit that died but came back to life as a RICO case and may join the undead forever in a twilight state (i.e., Illinois).

Though it shouldn’t have been filed in the first place, though it should have ended in 2005 with the Illinois Supreme Court’s unanimous decision, it continues because some of the original plaintiffs object to State Farm supporting the campaign of a judge elected to that high court.

State Farm has every right to defend itself against predatory lawsuits and to participate in the political process.

Think what would happen if more American businesses followed their example.

That’s what this case is really all about.

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