Keefe withdraws petition seeking review of venue decision in Trooper wrongful death case

By The Madison County Record | Jan 6, 2015

Belleville attorney Tom Keefe has withdrawn a petition for Supreme Court review of a decision to transfer a wrongful death suit out of Madison County.

Keefe filed a withdrawal motion on behalf of Sarah Deatherage on Dec. 10, fifteen days after he filed the petition.

Justice Anne Burke granted withdrawal on Dec. 23.

The Supreme Court will send the case back to Madison County Circuit Judge Dennis Ruth, with directions to transfer it to any of three counties.

Deatherage’s husband, state trooper Kyle Deatherage, died in 2012, when a DOT Foods truck ran him over on Interstate 55 in Montgomery County.

In 2013, Keefe sued DOT Foods, trucking subsidiary DOT Transportation, and driver Johnny Felton in Madison County Circuit Court.

Defendants moved for transfer, arguing they don’t do business in the county.

Ruth held a hearing and denied the motion a day later.

Defendants petitioned the Fifth District for review, but Justices Judy Cates and Melissa Chapman denied it. Justice Stephen Spomer would have granted it.

Defendants petitioned the Supreme Court for review, and the Supreme Court held that Cates and Chapman should have granted an appeal.

The Supreme Court sent the case back to the Fifth District, where defendants prevailed in September.

Presiding Justice Thomas Welch, Justice Gene Schwarm, and Spomer found that DOT Foods sales in Madison County represented .0024 percent of total sales.

They found that DOT Transportation revenues for hauls originating in the county represented .27 of total revenues.

They found venue appropriate in Montgomery, Brown and Sangamon counties.

Keefe called the press to his Swansea office on Oct. 28, to deplore the decision.

He tried to stir suspicion that Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier manipulated the Fifth District decision after taking campaign cash from DOT Foods.

When a reporter asked Keefe if his own contribution to Ruth’s campaign cancelled out contributions to Karmeier, he said he expected Ruth to recuse himself if the case returned to Madison County.

Keefe declared he had never seen a different panel on a case that returned from the Supreme Court.

On Nov. 3, he petitioned the Fifth District for rehearing before the original panel of Cates, Chapman and Spomer.

On Nov. 4, voters retained Karmeier.

On Nov. 10, Welch, Spomer and Schwarm denied rehearing and told Keefe he was mistaken in his understanding of panel assignments.

The justices wrote that the clerk randomly assigns panels with no consideration of issues, parties or attorneys.

“The court notes that in the last four years, counsel for plaintiff has had at least two other cases in which a petition for leave to appeal was denied by a panel of this court, the Supreme Court thereafter directed this court to grant the petition for leave to appeal, and a different panel heard and decided the case on its merits,” they wrote.

Keefe proceeded to the Supreme Court but alleged no manipulation, pleading instead that the Fifth District improperly expanded precedents.

He wrote that defendants successfully argued that, “because they do business everywhere, they do business nowhere.”

He wrote that, “inconsistencies and misstatements within the order demonstrate that these precedents should be revisited.”

He finished with a plea to “put a grieving widow on even footing as a multi-billion dollar company.”

In a couple weeks he decided to drop the effort.

The Supreme Court clerk plans to issue a mandate to Ruth on Jan. 27, directing him to consider the plaintiff’s choice among the three counties.

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