The candidates say their race is about qualifications and experience.
The doctors and hospitals say it’s about Southern Illinois’ medical malpractice crisis.
The political operatives say it’s about control of Illinois' highest court.
And the trial lawyers don’t exactly say what it’s about, but they’re sure they need to win.
The slugfest between Judges Lloyd Karmeier and Gordon Maag for the 5th District seat on Illinois’ Supreme Court is about many things.
But it will go down in Illinois history as the state’s most expensive, most contentious, and most controversial judicial race because of Madison County.
That little courthouse on Main Street in Edwardsville is the lightning rod attracting this spectacular show of political rhetoric that’s playing across Southern Illinois.
The winner will indeed have broad, far-ranging judicial responsibilities during a ten-year term in Springfield. But in this race today, Karmeier and Maag serve as proxies for those who want to preserve the Madison County’s court system as is, and those who think its version of justice is a travesty.
The choice for voters couldn’t be clearer.
A longtime circuit court judge and former Washington County State’s Attorney, Lloyd Karmeier is a self-made country lawyer improbably thrust on the national stage. He comes to this race with institutional support—from doctors, hospitals, and pro-business associations, to name a few -- but no hefty political organization or kingmaker setting expectations.
In contrast, Gordon Maag is, by any measure, a committed cog in Madison County’s mass tort money machine.
His legal career—a stint with the Lakin Law Firm in Wood River, then appointments to the 3rd Circuit and 5th Appellate bench—has been orchestrated and approved by the Madison County powerbrokers.
Those powerbrokers work hard to control Madison County’s political process and guarantee its judicial activism.
Control limits risk, crucial when tens and even hundreds of millions in legal fees and potential defendant settlements are at stake. Discipline makes the sometimes shaky business of representative democracy predictable.
The 3rd Circuit bench is a living example of that which Madison County Machine discipline can reap.
Per the Illinois Constitution, circuit court judges are popularly elected. But mid-term vacancies, created by a judge moving up to the Appellate Court or retiring, are filled, in effect, by that circuit’s Justice on the Illinois Supreme Court.
Judges Nicholas Byron, Ann Callis, Edward Ferguson, George Moran, Andy Matoesian, and Daniel Stack were all first appointed to the bench to fill Machine-contrived judicial‘vacancies,’ deftly giving them the benefit of incumbency when they eventually had to stand for popular election.
If Gordon Maag doesn’t win, for the next ten years the man doing that appointing would be Lloyd Karmeier.
What a nightmare for the Madison County Machine!
And what a sweet dream for those seeking justice at that little courthouse on Main Street.
Lloyd Karmeier's election to the Illinois Supreme Court would be a first step towards reform of the Madison County Court system. He is endorsed.