Madison County's kings of tort seek privilege involving 10-year-old political documents

By The Madison County Record | Aug 26, 2014


Five men who built Madison County into a national litigation center seek judicial protection for political information they shared 10 years ago.

Stephen Tillery, Brad Lakin, John Simmons, Jeff Cooper and Randall Bono withheld 413 documents from State Farm in a case that didn’t involve them at all until now.

The documents relate to the Supreme Court race of 2004, when all five lawyers supported Gordon Maag against current Justice Lloyd Karmeier.

State Farm claims it needs the documents to defend a claim that it fraudulently secured Karmeier’s election in order to overturn a $1 billion judgment from Williamson County.

On Aug. 22, State Farm lawyer Patrick Cloud of Edwardsville asked U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen Williams to compel compliance with a subpoena for the documents.

Cloud had identified Tillery as the group’s leader at a conference before Williams in July, but he hadn’t named the other four until he moved for compliance last week.

“The Tillery group attorneys are not parties to this action,” Cloud wrote.

“They do not represent any of the parties, and they do not represent the subpoenaed parties in respect to the subpoenas at issue.”

He wrote that the documents clearly were not maintained as confidential but rather freely shared between the Tillery group and lawyers in the State Farm suit.

He wrote that neither the Tillery group nor the legal team suing State Farm has objected to the relevance of the documents.

Brad Lakin’s involvement complicates matters for the judge on the case, Chief U.S. District Judge David Herndon, former partner of Brad’s father Tom Lakin.

Brad Lakin worked for his father at the time of the events in question, when the Lakin firm expanded from personal injury claims to consumer class actions.

Simmons worked for the Lakin firm on asbestos exposure suits, prior to starting his own high profile asbestos firm with Cooper.

Bono, who shaped the landscape for asbestos litigation as lawyer and judge before Simmons and Cooper ever set out, retired to Florida about 10 years ago.

Tillery led the biggest class action of all, Price v. Philip Morris, winning a $10 billion judgment from former Madison County circuit judge Nicholas Byron in 2003.

Illinois Supreme Court Justices reversed Byron in 2005, finding state consumer law didn’t apply to light and low tar labels on cigarettes because federal regulators authorized the labels.

Fifth District appellate judges reinstated the judgment last year, finding the Justices would have affirmed Byron if they had known what they now know about regulation of labels.

Philip Morris petitioned the Supreme Court for review.

Tillery called for Karmeier to recuse himself or for the other Justices to disqualify him, alleging that Philip Morris indirectly contributed millions to Karmeier’s campaign.

His allegation set up a collision, because the national team of lawyers suing State Farm in federal court attributed the same indirect contributions to State Farm.

The apparent double counting prompted State Farm to serve a subpoena on researcher Doug Wojcieszak, who had worked for both legal teams.

In May, his lawyers told State Farm lawyers that plaintiff’s counsel and the Tillery group would assert privilege over his documents.

According to Cloud’s motion, multiple discussions followed with Bill Lucco of Edwardsville on behalf of the Tillery group.

“During these discussions, Lucco explained that all assertions of the work product privilege were based on Price v. Philip Morris, even though only Korein Tillery is publicly associated with the case,” Cloud wrote.

He wrote that the log identified all but five documents as “not relevant to State Farm.”

“This self serving division of documents by non parties without standing to make relevance objections should be given no regard,” Cloud wrote.

He wrote that counsel for Wojcieszak didn’t assert privilege on the documents.

“The Tillery group cannot properly assert the attorney client privilege over documents that the subpoenaed parties and their counsel apparently were willing to disclose,” he wrote.

He wrote that production of the documents wouldn’t chill the group’s First Amendment rights because the court already entered a confidentiality order.

“Moreover, the Tillery group’s supposed fear of reprisal resulting from the disclosure of decade old communications related to the Karmeier campaign is overblown,” Cloud wrote.

“Because Tillery’s political views are well known, the idea that he would be subject to economic or some other form of reprisal defies belief.”

The lawyers suing State Farm filed their privilege log on Aug. 15, according to Cloud.

At the conference that Magistrate Judge Williams held in July, he told the lawyers suing State Farm to invite Lucco to the next conference on Aug. 27.

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