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Plaintiffs in Hale v. State Farm ordered to improve discovery answers; Trial set May 7

By Record News | Dec 12, 2017

EAST ST. LOUIS – Lawyers who claim State Farm corruptly secured the election of current Supreme Court Chief Justice Lloyd Karmeier must improve their answers to questions State Farm posed for trial, U.S. Magistrate Stephen Williams has ruled. 

On Nov. 30, he overruled objections of lead plaintiffs to 25 requests for admission. 

For a batch of 13 requests, he found plaintiffs didn’t admit knowledge of facts that their own lawyers filed at the Supreme Court. 

Plaintiffs sued State Farm in 2012, aiming to recover a billion-dollar judgment that the Supreme Court reversed in 2005. 

Plaintiffs seek interest and triple damages, for a total around $10 billion. 

Attorney Patrick Murphy of Marion filed the original suit in Williamson County in 1997, as local counsel for a national legal team. 

They claimed State Farm provided inferior parts for crash repairs in 48 states. 

Murphy stepped away from the case in 1998, after the U.S. Senate confirmed his appointment as district judge. 

Williamson county associate judge John Speroni held trial for seven weeks in 1999, ending with a verdict for class representative Michael Avery. 

Jurors awarded $456,180,000 in damages, and Speroni added $600 million in punitive damages. 

Fifth District appellate judges affirmed the judgment in 2001. 

State Farm appealed to the Supreme Court, which could not reach a decision. 

In 2004, Fifth District voters chose Karmeier over Gordon Maag to replace retiring Justice Philip Rarick. 

Avery counsel petitioned to disqualify Karmeier, claiming State Farm supported his campaign through third parties. 

Karmeier didn’t disqualify himself, and the Court reversed the judgment in 2005. 

The Justices found Speroni shouldn’t have certified a class because individual issues predominated. 

They demolished the foundation of national class litigation in Illinois courts by limiting the application of the Illinois Consumer Protection Act to Illinois. 

Avery tried to reopen the case at the Supreme Court in 2011, claiming he found new evidence of State Farm’s support for Karmeier, but the tactic failed. 

Avery’s legal team then found new class representative plaintiffs for an action in federal court under racketeering law. 

Last year, U.S. District Judge David Herndon certified lead plaintiff Mark Hale to represent a class consisting mostly of Avery class members. 

This January, State Farm served requests for admission on plaintiffs. 

Class counsel Robert Clifford of Chicago responded in April, starting with an objection to the term “plaintiffs’ counsel” as vague and unduly broad. 

He wrote that Avery counsel and Hale counsel are not the same. 

“Although some attorneys who served as Avery counsel also serve as Hale counsel, Avery and Hale are different cases with different allegations in different courts,” Clifford wrote. 

He also objected to the terms agent and agency, writing that requests with those terms called for a legal conclusion without indicating the applicable law. 

“In light of these objections, plaintiffs can neither admit nor deny these requests,” he wrote. 

Some of the requests that he wouldn’t admit or deny pertained to investigators Doug Wojcieszak and Michael Denton. 

Clifford wouldn’t admit or deny that they were agents of plaintiffs and plaintiffs’ counsel at the time of creation of documents bearing their names. 

He wouldn’t admit or deny that their statements concerned matters within the scope of an agency relationship. 

In all, he objected to seven requests about counsel and agents. 

Williams overruled all seven objections. 

He defined plaintiffs’ counsel as “counsel who were making the statements in the documents identified by State Farm at the time the statements were made.” 

He defined agent by citing a procedural rule pertaining to hearsay. 

“Plaintiffs are directed to amend their response by responding to the requests in light of these specific definitions,” Williams wrote. 

He overruled four other objections to requests about Wojciezsak and Denton. 

One request stated that in February 2005, plaintiffs’ counsel instructed them to prepare a “white paper” analyzing contributions to Karmeier’s campaign. 

Clifford responded that he instructed Tactical Consulting to prepare it. 

That didn’t satisfy Williams, who directed Clifford to supplement the response. 

He also ordered a supplement in response to a statement that an electronic message from Wojcieszak summarized the goals of the white paper. 

Clifford denied State Farm’s characterization of the document, referred State Farm to the document for complete content, and denied anything to the contrary. 

Williams wrote that he saw no problem with the characterization of the document. 

“Plaintiffs can either admit that the email accurately summarized the goals or not. If it does not, then it should be denied,” Williams wrote. 

Williams also ordered supplements in responses to a pair of nearly identical statements about Wojcieszak’s message. 

One request stated that a goal was to serve as a reference tool for attorneys challenging Karmeier’s participation in other cases involving corporate defendants. 

The other stated that a goal was to serve as a reference tool for attorneys in other cases trying to develop briefs similar to those in Avery. 

Clifford wrote in response to both requests that plaintiffs couldn’t speak for Wojcieszak and didn’t intend to interpret his communications. 

He admitted that Wojcieszak stated, “Our goal is to produce a white paper that can be used as a public relations instrument as well as a reference tool for any attorney trying to develop a brief similar to the two briefs we prepared in Avery.” 

In overruling 13 objections to requests for admission about certain individuals on certain boards, Williams wrote, “Plaintiffs have not answered whether the stated goals in the requests were goals of the white paper 

Williams wrote that plaintiffs didn’t admit knowledge of such facts but admitted that the motion for Karmeier’s nonparticipation in Avery stated that the individuals sat on the boards. 

“Plaintiffs can admit to their knowledge of facts that they put in their briefs, thus the plaintiffs are directed to amend their response,” Williams wrote. 

Last of all, Williams ordered a supplement in response to a statement that a Bar Association poll gave Karmeier 89.42 percent, and Maag 76.41 percent. 

Clifford wrote, “Plaintiffs have no particularized knowledge about, or opinion regarding, the methodology or accuracy of the cited evaluation.” 

Williams wrote, “Plaintiffs argue that they have no way of knowing if the poll was rigged or inaccurate, but the request simply asks plaintiffs to admit that the published results included the poll numbers stated. 

 “While plaintiffs can qualify their response, they still need to admit or deny.” 

He set a discovery hearing Jan. 24. 

He set a Jan. 30 deadline for motions to exclude experts. 

Herndon has set trial May 7.   

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Robert A. Clifford U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois