Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Mary Ann McMorrow criticized the Fifth District Appellate Court so harshly in overturning a billion dollar class action verdict that two Justices arose indignantly to defend the appellate court.Richard Goldenhersh, an appellate judge since 1980, was born in East St. Louis. He worked seven years in private practice in the Metro East region.
“I feel it is my duty to remind my colleagues that the same standards of review that are at play in the other four districts of the state apply to the Fifth District,” Justice Charles Freeman wrote in partial dissent to McMorrow’s Aug. 18 opinion in Avery vs. State Farm Insurance.
“I am concerned that today’s opinion sends a message that we, as a court, will employ different standards for cases coming out of the Fifth District on which national attention has been focused in order to reach a desired result,” Freeman wrote.
Justice Thomas Kilbride signed Freeman’s partial dissent.
McMorrow’s opinion overturned a $1,056,180,000 Williamson County verdict against State Farm Insurance.
The decision sent a message, but not exactly to the Fifth District – at least not to all 37 counties in the Fifth District. The message came across most clearly in the two counties that dominate the district – Madison and St. Clair.
Four of five elected Fifth District judges come from Madison and St. Clair counties, and a judge who holds the sixth elected seat on an interim basis comes from St. Clair County.
The domination has little to do with population. At the 2000 census, less than 40 percent of the district’s citizens lived in Madison and St. Clair counties. (See table.)
Thomas Welch, an appellate judge since 1980, was born in St. Louis. He was an assistant state’s attorney in Madison County and city attorney for Collinsville.
Melissa Chapman, an appellate judge since 2001, was born in Granite City. She worked 18 years in private practice at Granite City.
Presiding Judge James Donovan, an appellate judge since 2002, was born in East St. Louis. He was an assistant state’s attorney in St. Clair County.
Stephen McGlynn, an appellate judge since July, comes from Belleville. He replaced Gordon Maag, who was not retained by voters. To keep his seat, McGlynn would have to run next year for election to a 10-year term.
The only elected judge from the other 35 counties is Terrence Hopkins. He was born in West Frankfort. He served as Franklin County state’s attorney.
Stephen Spomer of Cairo sits on the Fifth District by assignment, not election. The Supreme Court assigned him to the district in July. He serves until further notice.
The Supreme Court can assign appellate judges in response to heavy work load.