Madison - St. Clair Record

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Lawyers in Hale v. State Farm reduce status of key investigator; Sides attack each others' experts

By The Madison County Record | Jan 13, 2016


Investigator Doug Wojcieszak, whose reports form the basis of corruption claims against Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier, might not take the stand at trial on that subject.

Lawyers who paid him for evidence that State Farm secretly financed Karmeier’s campaign in 2004 have abruptly reduced his status to potential witness.

On Jan. 8, they discredited research that he provided to lawyer Stephen Tillery in a separate case, tracing the same secret dollars to Philip Morris.

Elizabeth Cabraser of San Francisco wrote that, “his initial attribution of some of the Karmeier campaign money to Philip Morris was based on speculation and was later contradicted by the hard evidence he and others subsequently uncovered.”

Wojcieszak’s work on the State Farm and Philip Morris cases began to merge in 2014, when State Farm served a subpoena for his records.

He didn’t object but Tillery did, for himself and for Madison County lawyers Brad Lakin, John Simmons, Jeffrey Cooper, and Randall Bono.

The other four - Lakin, Simmons, Cooper and Bono - had not previously associated themselves with Tillery in the public record of the Philip Morris action, which started in 2000.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen Williams granted them privilege on some records but overruled it on many that he classified as public relations or lobbying.

Last year, Williams ordered a deposition of Wojcieszak in early October.

At a hearing on Oct. 20, he learned that State Farm set a deposition for Oct. 7, and Wojcieszak canceled it on Oct. 2.

State Farm counsel Joseph Cancila of Chicago told Williams that Wojcieszak was in an automobile accident.

Steven Blonder of Chicago, representing lead plaintiff Hale, said David Cates represented Wojcieszak.

Cancila handed Williams a letter from Wojcieszak’s doctor and said, “The accident occurred on July 25.”

State Farm counted on the deposition for a brief due on Nov. 18, Cancila told Williams.

Williams read the letter and said, “If he wants to delay on that basis, Mr. Cates has to come in here and ask.”

He said pushing it to December didn’t make sense.

“We need to get him in here because he is under subpoena,” Williams said.

Blonder asked him to file the letter under seal, and Williams said he would hold it.

Williams set a hearing on Oct. 29, for Cates to show why State Farm should not depose Wojcieszak before Nov. 13.

On Oct. 28, Williams canceled the hearing.

State Farm had not deposed Wojcieszak as of Jan. 8, according to a motion Blonder filed on that date to exclude testimony of State Farm expert Richard Painter.

Blonder wrote that Painter cited no authority requiring class counsel “to disclose purportedly contradictory information provided by their investigator, who has not testified in this case, to counsel in another matter.”

He wrote that Painter accused plaintiffs of failing to correct false statements by a fact witness, and in response he backed away from designating Wojcieszak as one.

He wrote that Painter premised his opinion on the fact that Wojcieszak might be a witness, and he referred to him throughout the motion as a potential witness.

Lead plaintiff Hale belonged to a class of policyholders that won a $1 billion judgment in Williamson County in 1999.

Jurors returned a verdict for class representative Michael Avery, finding State Farm installed or specified inferior parts for crash repairs.

Fifth District appellate judges affirmed the judgment in 2001, with Justice Gordon Maag writing the opinion.

In 2004, when Karmeier ran against Maag for the Supreme Court, State Farm’s appeal of Maag’s opinion awaited decision at the Supreme Court.

Karmeier won, and the Supreme Court reversed the judgment in 2005.

Avery petitioned the Justices to recall the mandate in 2011, claiming new evidence would show that Karmeier should have recused himself.

The Justices denied the petition, just as they denied a petition to recall their mandate in favor of Philip Morris this Jan. 11.

Hale sued State Farm in 2012, seeking civil penalties under the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

He claimed State Farm concealed its support for Karmeier from the Supreme Court in 2005 and 2011.

State Farm employee William Shepherd and Ed Murnane of Illinois Civil Justice League also were sued. So was Karmeier’s campaign, but it was quickly dismissed.

Hale sought to recover the judgment with interest and triple damages, for a total now approaching $8 billion.

U.S. District Judge David Herndon has set trial for October.

Last year he ruled that Hale could depose Karmeier within narrow limits.

The deposition has not taken place.

Motions challenging experts on both sides offer glimpses into strategy.

On Jan. 8, Blonder moved to exclude former Illinois State Board of Elections executive director Ronald Michaelson.

Blonder wrote that Michaelson’s opinions “encourage the jury to frame and consider the case on grounds other than those alleged in the complaint.”

He quoted from Michaelson’s report that the state’s political parties contributed almost $4.75 million to the contest, directly or in kind.

He quoted from the report that two political action committees combined for about $2.5 million.

“For the Maag campaign, the trial bar firms and its attorneys were very significant contributors,” Blonder quoted from the report.

“As compared to Maag, the Karmeier campaign had a much broader contribution base.”

In 2014, 111 contributors gave Karmeier $309,000, and 16 trial bar lawyers gave $2.7 million to a campaign against his retention, Blonder quoted from the report.

Disclosure filings showed no contributions to Karmeier from State Farm in 2004, and just $5,700 from State Farm employees, it showed.

“Dr. Michaelson’s observations are not only irrelevant to this case, but he fails to provide any support for their significance,” Blonder wrote.

He wrote that Michaelson would focus on State Board of Election reports rather than on whether State Farm was the source of unreported sums.

Blonder also moved to exclude State Farm expert Lauren Stiroh, who concluded that Karmeier’s participation in Avery did not matter.

He quoted from her report that others on the Court would have found in favor of State Farm on a number of issues.

“The decision of a multi-member court is entirely tainted whenever a participating member is disqualified due to lack of impartiality, even if that member did not cast the deciding vote,” Blonder wrote.

In December, State Farm counsel Patrick Cloud of Edwardsville moved to exclude plaintiff expert Charles Geyh.

Cloud quoted Geyh’s opinion that State Farm’s conduct required that Karmeier recuse himself.

He quoted Geyh’s opinion that State Farm violated plaintiffs’ due process rights.

“Plaintiffs fed Geyh all of the factual allegations he relied upon to reach his opinions about State Farm, which Geyh adopted in wholesale fashion without performing any of the requisite due diligence,” Cloud wrote.

He wrote that Geyh admitted he didn’t know that the Avery court was unanimous in key respects.

Cloud also moved to exclude Thomas Myers, who offered an opinion that State Farm funneled money to Karmeier through various organizations.

Cloud wrote that Myers provided speculation, not evidence, that the money State Farm contributed to organizations was the money that went to other organizations and ultimately the Karmeier campaign.

“There is no evidence that State Farm could or did direct that its contributions to these organizations be used for the Karmeier campaign,” Cloud wrote.

“The vast majority of the money cited by Myers was dues State Farm paid to these organizations for years before and after the Karmeier campaign.”

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Organizations in this Story

Joseph A. Cancila Jr.Korein TilleryCates Law Firm LLCSimmons Hanly ConroyIllinois Supreme CourtPhilip Morris USAHeyl RoysterMadison County