State Farm will raise First Amendment objections document by document if it doesn’t obtain an order protecting the privacy of records in a $7 billion class action, according to its lawyers.
In a May 23 reply to plaintiffs who prefer publicity to privacy, they called on U.S. Magistrate Stephen Williams to adopt a protective order they proposed on May 2.
“Most of plaintiffs’ discovery requests seek information that is potentially protected by the First Amendment associational privilege,” Patrick Cloud of HeplerBroom in Edwardsville wrote.
“When a court enters a protective order like that defendants propose, it is not rendering a decision that any particular document is in fact confidential,” he wrote.
“Instead, the order serves as an efficiency measure, by expediting production and avoiding the burden on the court of document by document adjudication,” he wrote.
He filed the brief jointly with two other defendants, Ed Murnane of Illinois Civil Justice League and State Farm employee William Shepherd.
Plaintiffs who claim State Farm, Murnane and Shepherd corruptly secured the election of Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier opposed the order on May 16.
Lead lawyer Robert Clifford of Chicago wrote, “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.”
Clifford wrote that defendants failed to show any likelihood that identifying donors to groups which supported Karmeier would result in threats, harassment or reprisals.
Cloud argued in reply that defendants don’t plan to assert privilege as to contributions to candidates, committees, and parties, which are matters of public record.
He wrote that they planned to assert privilege as to contributions to trade associations and advocacy organizations and communications with those groups.
“Plaintiffs offer no authority holding that such associational activities lose their privileged character merely because one party asserts they are ‘political,’ and no such authority exists,” Cloud wrote.
He wrote that defendants do not seek an abstract ruling on privilege issues now.
“Instead, defendants have proposed provisions that would allow plaintiffs relevant discovery without defendants risking privilege waiver,” he wrote.
He wrote that plaintiffs offered no explanation of why that proposal was inadequate.
“If the court rejects defendants’ proposal, the First Amendment’s application necessarily will have to be addressed on a document by document basis, which will delay discovery, create additional burden and waste judicial resources on unnecessary disputes,” he wrote.
He wrote that plaintiffs have yet to produce a shred of proof of their allegations.
“State Farm served subpoenas on plaintiffs’ investigators months ago seeking documents related to their supposed investigations, and have yet to receive anything,” Cloud wrote.
Russell Scott of Belleville signed the brief for Shepherd, and Scott Berliant of Chicago signed for Murnane.
Magistrate Williams has set a hearing June 17.
Chief District Judge David Herndon presides over the action.