Supreme Court allows late petition in trooper case; Keefe wants case litigated in Madison County

By The Madison County Record | Dec 3, 2014

While Belleville attorney Tom Keefe campaigned against the retention of Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier, he missed deadlines in two courts to challenge a decision he accused Karmeier of rigging.

Keefe has nevertheless kept the case of widow Sarah Deatherage moving anyway, by filing three late petitions that worked as well as one timely petition.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Rita Garman granted leave to file an appeal petition on Nov. 25.

Deatherage seeks to reverse an appellate court decision that stripped Madison County Circuit Judge Dennis Ruth of jurisdiction over her wrongful death suit.

She sued DOT Foods, its DOT Transportation subsidiary and truck driver Johnny Felton last year, seeking damages for the death of state trooper Kyle Deatherage which occurred on I-55 in Montgomery County in 2012.

DOT Foods moved for transfer. Ruth held a hearing and denied the motion the next day.

DOT Foods petitioned the Fifth District for leave to appeal, and Justices Judy Cates and Melissa Chapman denied the petition. Justice Stephen Spomer would have granted it.

DOT Foods petitioned the Supreme Court for review, and the Supreme Court ordered the Fifth District to grant an appeal.

The case went to a new panel, with Justices Thomas Welch, Gene Schwarm and Spomer.

This Sept. 30, they ruled that Ruth must transfer the case to Montgomery County, Brown County or Sangamon County.

Spomer wrote that DOT Foods and DOT Transportation have no office in Madison County and are not doing business there.

He calculated Madison County’s share of DOT Foods sales for 2012 at .0024 percent.

He calculated that hauls originating in Madison County generated .0027 percent of DOT Transportation revenues in 2012.

On Oct. 21, Keefe’s deadline to petition for rehearing passed.

On Oct. 28, he called a press conference to stir suspicion that Karmeier manipulated Spomer, Welch, and Schwarm after DOT Foods contributed to his campaign.

Keefe said it was the only time in 35 years that a different panel decided a petition than had previously denied it.

He said Karmeier appointed Spomer and Schwarm. He said Welch is in their party.

When a reporter asked about a $2,500 contribution Keefe made to Judge Ruth, he said he expected Ruth would recuse himself if the case returned to Madison County.

The day before the election, 13 days past deadline, Keefe filed motions at the Fifth District to reassign the case to the original panel and to extend his time to petition for rehearing.

On election day, Nov. 4, his deadline for any petition to the Supreme Court, Keefe tried to file one but couldn’t do it because his motion for an extension of time remained pending at the Fifth District.

On Nov. 10, Spomer, Schwarm and Welch struck both his motions as untimely.

They wrote that Keefe was mistaken concerning panel assignments. The court clerk sets cases for oral argument by random assignment “with no consideration of issues, parties or attorneys,” they wrote.

They further wrote that in four years Keefe had at least two other cases in which a panel denied a petition, the Supreme Court directed the court to grant it, and a different panel decided it.

On Nov. 17, Keefe petitioned the Supreme Court for leave to file a petition instantly.

He wrote that he filed the petition immediately after the appellate judges denied his motion for an extension of time.

Garman allowed Keefe to file his petition instantly, and Keefe delivered a document free of any commentary on Karmeier.

Instead he argued that courts shouldn’t transfer suits against big companies out of counties where they plead that they don’t do business.

“Multi billion dollar corporations conduct tens of millions of dollars worth of business in countless counties, yet use this analysis to successfully argue that because they are doing business everywhere, they do business nowhere,” he wrote.

He wrote that in 2012, defendants purchased $17.5 million in fuel in Madison County and picked up more than 18 million pounds of food there.

It is time to reexamine precedents, he wrote, “because the concerns informing the holdings applied to a world that no longer exists.”

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