Politicians are responding to a recent attack ad against Republican candidates for Illinois' Fifth District Appellate Court started by the political action committee Fair Courts Now, which is funded primarily by asbestos attorneys who practice in Madison County.
State Sen. Dave Luechtefeld, R-Okawville, said voters can draw their own conclusions about who is putting up the money and why.
“It’s basically a small group of trial lawyers and firms that deal with class-action lawsuits, and also some asbestos firms,” Luechtefeld told the Record. “Why do they spend that kind of money -- $1 million – why would you spend that kind of money on an appellate judge race?”
Fair Courts Now, established on Oct. 11, raised $1 million and spent $750,000 on print and TV ads against Republican candidates Justice James “Randy” Moore and Circuit Court Judge John Barberis. Trial lawyers appear to make up the majority of donors to the fund. The committee is an entirely independent entity that operates separately from the Democratic candidate's campaign funding.
Democratic candidate Judge Brad Bleyer said he was not involved in the Fair Courts Now attack ads, and said he’s worked hard to promote his campaign in a positive manner.
“I did not solicit or request any outside advertising,” he said on Oct. 31.
Barberis said he did not believe his opponent was behind the negative ads.
“I know Brad doesn’t have anything to do with this, so there’s no blame whatsoever,” he told the Illinois Association of Defense Trial Council’s appellate judge candidate’s forum on Oct. 25. “I don’t feel any animosity or any concern Brad orchestrated or had anything to do with this, because I know Brad is a good guy and wouldn’t have done that.”
Luechtefeld said trial lawyers and law firms have vested interests in who is elected to the bench. He said lawyers know that cases are going to go in front of certain judges, and know how those judges generally feel about those cases.
“Certainly those firms know, they know they’re going to have cases in front of that court,” he said. “And you have to ask yourself, why is it worth that kind of money to get a certain judge on that court? I think they look at it as an investment because they know they’re going to have cases in front of that court.”
He added that he considers all those running for the court to be good people. He suspects, however, that trial lawyers are hoping to get an edge by electing someone more amenable to their big cases that can rake in money for their firms.
What’s shocked him is the amount of money raised by the Fair Courts Now political action committee. He said for a judicial race such as this, $1 million is a huge amount of money.
“There’s no doubt there’s a reason for it,” he said. “People have to draw their own conclusions.”