Reaction to Gov. Bruce Rauner's dings on the state's judicial system earlier this week has been fast and furious.

A day after Rauner told a Chicago-area newspaper that the Illinois Supreme Court is part of a "corrupt system" because justices accept campaign contributions from attorneys who argue before them, the head of the state's trial lawyer group shot back.

Illinois Trial Lawyers Association President John D. Cooney said it was "outrageous, irresponsible and anti-democratic" for Rauner to "smear" justices of the Illinois Supreme Court.

In his first legislative session, Rauner has been promoting a reform agenda that includes overhauling the state's deeply troubled pension system.

His remarks to the Arlington Heights Daily Herald's editorial board came in context of the high court's consideration of a 2013 law that cuts retirement benefits for teachers, state workers and retirees.

According to the Daily Herald, Rauner said he is working toward a reformed pension system that would break "a 'corrupt bargain' between union leaders and politicians who can get campaign money from them."

"I don't trust the Supreme Court to be rational in their decisions," Rauner told the newspaper. "I think they're activist judges who want to be legislators."

Illinois State Bar Association President Richard D. Felice said Wedenesday that, as lawyers, "we know Gov. Rauner’s attack is without foundation."

"We read the opinions authored by the Supreme and Appellate courts," Felice said in a letter to the editor. "We know they are decided without bias, based on the facts and evidence presented and the applicable law. We respect them as intelligent, well-reasoned decisions even when we don’t agree with them."

Money, elections, attacks and litigation

Personal injury lawyer contributions to state, appellate and supreme court judicial candidates play a big role in Illinois elections.

And just a few months ago, they played a significant role in an attempt to remove a sitting justice from the Illinois Supreme Court.

When Justice Lloyd Karmeier sought retention to a second 10-year term last November, lawyers with financial stakes in two high profile, high dollar cases spent $2 million attacking his character and record in attempt to oust him from the court.

But in spite of the 11th hour negative campaign, Karmeier won retention by the slimmest of margins.

Lawyers who funded the attack included ones associated with attorney Stephen Tillery of St. Louis, whose $10.1 billion tobacco case Price v. Philip Morris awaits hearing at the Illinois Supreme Court.

Funding also came from lawyers associated with Robert Clifford of Chicago, who is pursuing a RICO case approaching $8 billion against State Farm Insurance. The case Hale v. State Farm  is playing out in the Southern District of Illinois.

Clifford's team secured a victory in late February when U.S. District Judge David Herndon granted plaintiffs' request to depose Karmeier.

In Hale, plaintiffs claim a conspiracy in the election of Karmeier in 2004 as they seek to recover a $1 billion judgment in Avery v. State Farm which the Supreme Court reversed in 2005. Karmeier voted with the majority in the Avery decision.

With interest and triple damages, the plaintiffs' claim is close to $8 billion.

Not only do plaintiffs accuse State Farm and others of a conspiracy, they also have taken aim at the Illinois State Bar Association and the process it used in 2004 to evaluate Karmeier.

Last December, the Bar responded to a brief in the Hale case which accused its judicial evaluation committee of bias toward Karmeier in 2004.

“Plaintiffs’ fantastical position insults the intelligence of this court..." the ISBA responded.

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Illinois Supreme Court Illinois Trial Lawyers Association

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