A couple of hours after polls closed on election night, Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier’s most avid supporter believed his friend had lost one of the ugliest political battles he had ever witnessed in his career.
State Sen. Dave Luechtefeld (R-Okawville) gathered with Karmeier and others to watch returns come in at the Washington County Republican headquarters in Nashville. Karmeier needed at least 60 percent support from voters in 37 counties.
At about 9:30 p.m., results showed that Karmeier was slightly under 60 percent, Luechtefeld said.
“The thought was that it did not look good,” he said.
Luechtefeld left Nashville to join a celebration at Congressman-elect Mike Bost’s headquarters in Carbondale. By that time in the evening it was clear that Republican Bost, who serves as state representative within Luechtefeld’s state senate district, was going to win his race against Rep. Bill Enyart, Democrat from Belleville.
“Then I got a phone call,” Luechtefeld said. “They said, ‘you know what, I think we got this.’”
It then became the “most gratifying” evening of his career, he said.
Results from East St. Louis, which conducts elections independently from the St. Clair County Clerk’s operations, typically come in later in the evening and they always favor Democratic candidates and causes by overwhelming margins. But on Nov. 4, East St. Louis voters helped propel Karmeier – whose party affiliation did not appear next to his name on the ballot - over the 60 percent threshold. He received 62.21 percent approval there, with 3,793 yes votes to 2,304 no votes.
In unofficial tallies from all 38 election authorities, Karmeier received 227,409 yes votes to 147,363 no votes. Of the votes counted on election night, Karmeier won by 2,546.
Yet to be counted next week are provisional and mail-in absentee ballots postmarked by Nov. 3. There are not enough remaining uncounted ballots to change the result.
While the absence of Karmeier’s political affiliation may partly explain his popularity in East St. Louis, Luechtefeld said that Karmeier had been pro-active in reaching out to the East St. Louis community, and that he had attended a NCAAP dinner in October.
“I really don’t know how it happened,” Luechtefeld said of the East St. Louis result, “but I am happy with what happened.”
Karmeier attack - 'immoral'
Luechtefeld called a last minute, $2 million negative campaign against Karmeier – financed by lawyers who stand to gain approximately $2 billion in fees if judgments that were overturned by the Illinois Supreme Court in 2005 are restored – “immoral.”
Those behind the advertising blitz included lawyers associated with lead counsel Stephen Tillery in the $10.1 billion Price v. Philip Morris case, as well as attorney Robert Clifford of Chicago and his co-counsel who seek to restore Avery v. State Farm at triple the original verdict for an amount approaching $8 billion.
Luechtefeld said that had the efforts of a few people with a lot of money resulted in who was or was not going to be judge, it would have been a “terrible” precedent and “terrible” for the court system for years to come.
“Even Democrats, they know this,” he said.
“What they did, I have never seen anything quite like it,” he said, referring to TV and print advertising and robocalls.
He said that one robocall featured a person pretending to be a “conservative” stating that Karmeier was a “liberal” and should be voted out. Another robocall featured a person named “Mike” – leaving an impression it was Mike Bost – encouraging voters to vote no on Karmeier, he said. Print advertising aimed at Republican households likened Karmeier to “corrupt” Chicago politicians such as Democrat Rod Blagojevich.
Luechtefeld also said he did not understand why Belleville lawyer Thomas Keefe “used” his client – a widow pursuing litigation against a trucking company over her husband’s death – to make accusations that campaign contributions the company made to Karmeier were suspicious.
Keefe held a press conference a week before the election to bring attention to contributions DOT Foods made before and after the Fifth District Appellate Court ruled that Madison County was not the proper venue for his client, widow Sarah Deatherage, to sue over the death of husband Kyle Deatherage – a state trooper killed on I-55 near Litchfield in 2012. Keefe said he was not “casting aspersions” on Karmeier, nor politicizing the matter. He pointed out that two of the three justices at the Fifth District who ruled unfavorably toward Deatherage on venue, had been appointed by Karmeier and belonged to his party.
The weekend before the election, a robocall with Sarah Deatherage’s voice amplified Keefe’s press conference message. She stated that Karmeier received contributions from the “company that killed my husband.”
Luechtefeld said that lawyers are supposed to help their clients make good decisions, not bad ones.
“The sad part is that this lady is grieving,” Luechtefeld said. “We all feel for her."
“He knew Karmeier had nothing to do with that (appellate court) case,” Luechtefeld said. "His client said publicly that she found out about the donations from her lawyer. I really wonder how a person could do that.”
Luechtefeld said that obviously enough voters could see through the “absolutely false” advertising.
He said that Karmeier, whom he has been friends with since high school, is “the most honorable person.”
“Everyone who knows him holds him in the highest regard,” he said.