Anti-retention group stops payment on checks sent to Dem. committees after Karmeier camp files complaint

By Ann Maher | Oct 30, 2014

The organization seeking to oust Justice Lloyd Karmeier from the Illinois Supreme Court has advised the Illinois State Board of Elections that it mistakenly made payments to county Democratic organizations, but stopped payment on checks before funds were ever deposited.

Campaign for 2016 chairman Barzin Emami notified the elections board in a letter dated Wednesday that a $5,000 check to the Williamson County Democratic Central Committee and a $3,000 check to the Franklin County Democratic Organization were incorrectly reported as expenditures on a disclosure report filed Monday.

Emami's notification to the board came the same day that Karmeier's campaign issued a release stating the contributions broke campaign finance laws that prohibit independent groups like Campaign for 2016 from contributing to local political party organizations.

Illinoisans for Karmeier campaign spokesperson Ron Deedrick said a formal complaint was filed against Campaign for 2016 on Wednesday.

"These laws aren't set up to allow shadow organizations of out-of-state lawyers to steal Supreme Court seats," Deedrick said.

Karmeier is seeking retention to a second 10-year term in a district that encompasses the state's 37 southern-most counties. To be retained, Karmeier needs 60 percent voter approval.

Campaign for 2016, which has so far received $1.9 million in contributions from six attorneys or firms, has been running negative ads in the St. Louis, Cape Girardeau, Mo. and Paducah, Ky. markets. The advertising says that Karmeier voted to reverse judgments against State Farm and Philip Morris after the companies supported his campaign in 2004.

In 2005, Karmeier participated in decisions that overturned class action judgments of about $10 billion in Price v. Philip Morris, and about $1 billion in Avery v. State Farm.

The lawyers and firms financing Campaign for 2016 could reap billions in fees if the Philip Morris and State Farm judgments are reinstated. Both cases have been re-activated.

St. Louis attorney Stephen Tillery is lead counsel in the case against Philip Morris. Partners at his firm, George Zelcs of Chicago, and Christine Moody of St. Louis, together have contributed $1.2 million to Campaign for 2016.

Tillery's co-counsel in the Philip Morris case - Richardson Patrick Westbrook and Brickman based in Charleston, S.C. contributed $300,000 and Power Rogers and Smith of Chicago contributed $200,000.

Tillery himself has not contributed.

A firm and attorney which who lead the case against State Farm - Clifford Law Office in Chicago and Don Barrett of Lexington, Miss. have contributed $150,000 and $50,000 respectively to Campaign for 2016.

If the anti-retention effort is successful, an election would be held in 2016 to fill the seat. It would be up to the Supreme Court to appoint someone to the seat in the interim.

Karmeier spokesman Deedrick said in a statement, "The opposition says it's their goal to educate the public about the Justice's record, but it is apparent that what they are really about is doing anything they can to intimidate the courts and buy this southern Illinois Supreme Court seat."

Karmeier's campaign, in the meantime, has been bolstered by a $950,000 expenditure made by Republican State Leadership Committee of Washington, D.C. for television advertising in the district's three main media markets. The advertising touts Karmeier's record and endorsements, as well as discredits the negative attacks.

Illinoisans for Karmeier has raised close to $170,000.

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