Plaintiff lawyers in proposed $7 billion class action given green light to investigate Garman campaigns

By The Madison County Record | Aug 28, 2014

Plaintiffs claiming State Farm corruptly secured the election of Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier in 2004 can also investigate the victory of current Chief Justice Rita Garman in 2002, U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen Williams decided on Aug. 27.

At a conference in district court, he ordered State Farm to comply with a subpoena for campaign documents back to April 2001.

Plaintiff counsel Steven Blonder of Chicago had told Williams that Garman’s election serves as a base line for comparison to Karmeier’s election.

Blonder said that if State Farm changed its conduct between elections, the change would be probative evidence.

He proposed to begin discovery at April 2001 because in that month, Fifth District appellate judges affirmed a billion dollar judgment against State Farm from Williamson County.

“That’s when the decision came down and State Farm said we have to do something,” Blonder said.

State Farm counsel Ronald Safer of Chicago protested in response that, “There is nothing about Rita Garman in their complaint.”

He proposed seven years of discovery, from 2002 to 2006 and from 2011 to the present.

Williams granted 13 years, saying a complaint doesn’t govern discovery.

He said principles of relevance and privilege still apply.

“That’s how we’re going to handle discovery,” Williams said.

During the hearing, the attorney representing Karmeier - Courtney Cox - told Williams that telephone companie have given records of Karmeier and his wife to plaintiffs.

Cox said he learned about it a day earlier.

“I would like to get all those documents back," Cox said. "Plaintiffs may have had them for as much as a month. They didn’t tell us they had them.”

Blonder said a plaintiff lawyer asked the phone companies not to produce certain records.

“When we got them we assumed we didn’t have what we didn’t want,” Blonder said.

He said they contacted the phone companies and said they weren’t supposed to do that.

“We are not going through those documents," Blonder said. "We have not disseminated it. We are not reviewing it.”

Williams said counsel for Karmeier didn’t have copies, and Blonder said he would be happy to give them copies.

Williams ordered all parties to segregate their records and confer about them.

He told lawyers to read Greenville v. Syngenta, a new Seventh Circuit decision finding that lawyers can’t make confidential documents public by posting them as exhibits.

The Seventh Circuit held that public access applies only to documents a judge considered in the process of reaching a decision.

Williams barely touched the hottest topic on the docket, an objection from five lawyers in another case seeking to block State Farm’s access to 413 documents.

Stephen Tillery, Brad Lakin, John Simmons, Jeff Cooper and Randall Bono assert privilege over 413 documents subject to a State Farm subpoena on researcher Doug Wojcieszak.

The documents relate to Price v. Philip Morris, a Tillery class action pending before the Supreme Court.

State Farm pointed out in a recent brief that among the group, only Tillery has been publicly associated with the Price case.

Williams nevertheless referred to all five as Price plaintiffs’ counsel, and no one corrected him.

Williams set a Sept. 12 deadline for a brief on the Tillery group’s assertion of privilege, with a hearing to follow on Sept. 15.

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