BELLEVILLE – Almost half the civil suits that began in St. Clair County Associate Judge Chris Kolker’s court from July through December last year involved lawyers who contributed to his campaign for circuit judge in the same period.
Among 89 new suits that Chief Judge Andrew Gleeson assigned to Kolker in that time period, Kolker’s supporters litigated in 41.
Lawyers and firms in those 41 suits gave Kolker’s campaign $28,870. That accounted for 33 percent of all his contributions, which totaled $88,480.
While Kolker has more than 89 cases on his docket, the review period includes a span of time in which the contributions were made.
In six suits where Kolker’s supporters represented plaintiffs, defendants chose to litigate before other judges.
Four defendants removed suits to U.S. district court, and two moved for substitution in circuit court.
Any party in an Illinois court can substitute a judge once without cause if the judge has not made a substantial ruling.
Defendants prevented Kolker from hearing any of three new suits from attorney Tom Keefe’s firm, which gave Kolker $3,000.
One defendant exercised the right of substitution, one exercised the right of removal, and one moved for a transfer that Keefe didn’t oppose.
Kolker’s biggest booster, Randy Gori’s firm, represents a plaintiff alleging negligence against Four Fountains nursing home in Kolker’s court.
The firm gave Kolker $6,000, and Gori attorneys Todd Mathews, Kolker’s campaign chair, and Sara Salger each gave him $1,000.
Gori mostly litigates asbestos suits, but Kolker’s docket doesn’t carry any.
Another big booster, the Becker Hoerner firm of Belleville, gave Kolker $5,240 while defending two new injury suits against East St. Louis school district 189 in his court.
No other Kolker supporter represented a defendant in any new suit before him except Knapp, Ohl, and Green of Edwardsville, which gave him $240.
Kolker's campaign provided a statement in response:
"Judge Kolker does not solicit contributions, as judges are not allowed to do that. The campaign does not know who has cases in his courtroom. Judge Kolker has a broad base of support from in and out of the legal community."
The statement also indicated the campaign had not had time to verify or review the statistics cited in the review period.
"[I]f they are correct, the majority of the contributions are from those who do not have cases in Judge Kolker's court," the statement says. "Judge Kolker has well over 89 cases on his current docket and has heard motions in many more than 89 cases while on the bench. Contributions have been made from attorneys who represent defendants, plaintiffs, and attorneys who handle both. This diversity is a reflection of Judge Kolker’s fairness and shows broad support for his campaign."
Other contributing attorneys with new cases before Kolker include:
-Four new suits from Nelson and Nelson, which gave him $1,000.
-Four from Kuehn, Beasley, and Young, which gave him $1,000.
-Three from Thomas Rich, who gave him $1,000. Kolker also presided over a fourth until a defendant removed it.
-Two from Bruce Cook’s firm, which gave him $1,220.
-Two from Chatham and Baricevic, which contributed $240 from former chief judge John Baricevic and $760 from the firm.
-Two from Bonifield and Rosenstengel, which gave him $500.
-Two from Foley and Kelly, which gave him $500.
-Two from the Williams Caponi firm, which gave him $240.
-One from Mathis, Marifian, and Richter, which gave him $1,100.
-One from John Driscoll’s class action firm, which gave him $1,000. Kolker also presided over another until a defendant removed it.
-One from Crowder and Scoggins, which gave him $1,000. The firm withdrew from a second one in his court.
-One from Brian Wendler, who gave him $500.
-One from Weilmuenster and Keck, which gave him $360.
-One from David Duree, who gave him $250. Kolker also presided over one that Duree dismissed.
-One from the Freeark Harvey firm, which gave him $240.
-One from Keith Short, who gave him $240. Short pursues one of the claims Becker Hoerner defends for district 189, placing Kolker supporters on both sides. Kolker briefly presided over two other suits from Short, but Short dismissed one and the defendant in another moved for substitution.
-One from Kevin Boyne, who gave him $240, but the defendant removed it.
-One from Timothy Stubblefield, whose firm gave him $1,000, but Stubblefield dismissed the suit.