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Thursday, September 19, 2019

Class seeks to unseal documents in $10 billion Hale v. State Farm action

By Record News | May 22, 2018

EAST ST. LOUIS – Class action lawyers preparing for a $10 billion trial against State Farm want jurors to see 106 documents that the insurer has classified as confidential. 

Lead plaintiff lawyer Robert Clifford of Chicago moved to unseal the documents on May 15, for a trial that U.S. District Judge David Herndon plans to start on Sept. 4. 

“In order to properly and fairly try their case, plaintiffs require use of these documents in open court,” Clifford wrote. 


The class claims State Farm corrupted the Illinois Supreme Court in 2004, in order to overturn a $1 billion class action judgment. 

It claims that State Farm secretly funneled campaign money to current Chief Justice Lloyd Karmeier. 

The class doesn’t claim that Karmeier influenced other Justices, alleging instead that his presence tainted the entire proceedings. 

Clifford proposes to unseal the documents immediately, for the sake of a plaintiff class that Herndon certified. 

He wrote that class members would soon be confronted with publication notice alerting them that a class had been certified. 

“As class members decide whether or not to remain in this litigation, it will be extremely relevant for them to know that documents in the case, including some of defendants’ own, establish such things as:” he wrote. 

Clifford redacted the next three paragraphs by blacking them out. 

“These examples constitute only a very small representation of the trove of relevant information in the sealed documents, all of which class members deserve to know as they elect to either opt out or remain in the case, but all of which will be hidden from the class unless this motion is granted,” he wrote. 

Fifteen other lawyers active in the case placed their names on the motion. 

Law professors Erwin Chemerinsky of the University of California-Berkeley and Stephen Saltzburg of George Washington University also placed their names on it. 

The motion identifies them as attorneys for plaintiffs. 

In the original case - a nearly national class action - Williamson County jurors found that State Farm specified or supplied inferior parts for crash repairs. 

Williamson County associate judge John Speroni entered judgment in excess of $1 billion in 1998, and Fifth District appellate judges affirmed him in 2001. 

State Farm appealed to the Supreme Court, where the Justices failed to reach a decision through 2003. 

In 2004, Karmeier ran for a Supreme Court seat against Fifth District judge Gordon Maag, author of the decision affirming Speroni. 

Karmeier won, and the Justices reached a decision for State Farm in 2005. 

They found Speroni shouldn’t have certified a class because individual issues predominated over class issues. 

They found he committed errors in applying Illinois law to other states, interpreting many policies as a single contract, and calculating damages. 

Class counsel petitioned to reopen the case at the Supreme Court in 2011, claiming they found new evidence of State Farm’s improper involvement. 

The Justices chose not to reopen it. 

In 2012, class counsel filed suit in federal court for plaintiff Mark Hale. 

They sought to recover the amount of the judgment, with triple damages under racketeering law, plus interest. 

In 2014, Magistrate Judge Stephen Williams signed a confidentiality order over objections from class counsel. 

Class counsel moved last year to vacate the order and open all documents. 

Williams denied the motion this year. 

The current motion doesn’t aim to open all documents, focusing only on exhibits from a brief opposing a summary judgment motion from State Farm. 

Clifford wrote that in opposing State Farm’s motion, plaintiffs were compelled to file under seal the most meaningful and revealing of the exhibits. 

Herndon has set aside six weeks for the trial, scheduled to begin in September.   

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Organizations in this Story

Illinois Supreme Court The George Washington University University of a California-Berkeley