Documents that State Farm must produce in a $7 billion class action about Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier should not be kept confidential, Chicago lawyer Robert Clifford argues in U.S. District Court.
“The public has a significant interest in access to filed information pertaining to the impartiality of a state supreme court justice and to an alleged scheme to funnel corporate money through the courthouse’s back door,” he wrote on May 16.
Clifford wrote that the public “has a substantial interest in allegations that an independent Illinois Supreme Court was compromised for private gain.”
He opposed a motion from State Farm and individual defendants, Ed Murnane and William Shepherd, for an order protecting confidentiality of documents they produce.
“Plaintiffs submit that it would be best for the court to weigh the public interest now, to avoid the complication of engaging in this process motion by motion later, when defendants seeks to seal plaintiffs’ discovery filings,” Clifford wrote.
“Defendants’ failure to show good cause, coupled with the public’s overwhelming interest in transparency, counsel the court to define confidential information very narrowly here.
“Plaintiffs do seek materials pertaining to political contributions and related associational communications, but those materials do not merit protection.”
The First Amendment protects donor identities only if a group shows that disclosure would probably subject them to threats, harassment or reprisals, he wrote.
Defendants have not demonstrated this likelihood of harm, he wrote.
Clifford’s clients belonged to a class that sued State Farm in Williamson County in 1997, claiming the insurer supplied inferior parts for crash repairs.
Jurors returned a verdict for about five million policy holders in 1999, and associate judge John Speroni entered judgment of $1.18 billion.
Fifth District appellate judges trimmed it to $1.05 billion in 2001.
On appeal, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in 2003.
“In 2003, State Farm implemented a scheme to compromise the Illinois Supreme Court’s impartiality and defraud the Avery class members of their judgment,” Clifford wrote.
State Farm convinced a relatively unknown trial court judge to run for Supreme Court, and managed and orchestrated his campaign, he wrote.
The company contributed millions through entities or committees it formed or controlled, he wrote.
State Farm was not honest with the Illinois Supreme Court or the United States Supreme Court about its participation in his election, he wrote.
“Justice Karmeier knew of State Farm’s participation and deception,” he wrote. “There are emails proving that.”
The Avery class moved him to recuse himself, and he refused, Clifford wrote.
Karmeier and three other justices voted to decertify the class and the U.S. Supreme Court denied a petition for review.
In 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court held that a judge’s failure to recuse in a case involving a contributor violated a plaintiff’s due process, he wrote.
That decision encouraged Avery class counsel to hire a retired Federal Bureau of Investigation investigator to examine the campaign, he wrote.
“He found evidence of State Farm’s extensive participation, which State Farm had not disclosed to the Illinois Supreme Court,” he wrote.
In 2011, the class petitioned the Illinois Supreme Court to recall the mandate in Avery, and the Court denied it without comment, The U.S. Supreme Court then denied the class’s petition for review.
Plaintiffs filed the Hale case in 2012, asserting claims under the Racketeer Influenced and corrupt Organizations Act.
“Plaintiffs have pleaded plausible allegations that defendants engaged in an extensive and covert racketeering campaign to deprive plaintiffs of an impartial judicial forum and to rig the state judicial system at its highest level,” Clifford wrote.
Magistrate Judge Stephen Williams has set a hearing June 17.
Chief District Judge David Herndon presides over the case.