Friday, December 16, 2005

Torts and Detriments

Cross-posted from ICPR's blog, The Race is On:

Campaign contributors gave over $9 million to the two candidates for Illinois’ last open Supreme Court seat. That dollar figure, more than six times the cost of the previous Supreme Court race, shattered national records, and was all the more striking because the race was in the state’s least populated Supreme Court district (only 566,000 ballots were cast there; contrast that with the 1 million ballots in the Second District, and 1.4 million in the First).

Most of that money came from groups that support or oppose tort reform. And as the Tribune points out this morning, it’s hard not to wonder if that money influences the Court's rulings.

The Trib quotes Ed Murnane, whose Civil Justice League gave over a million to support the winning candidate and who filed a brief in the Philip Morris case, as saying, "Karmeier's election changed the vote." And he may be right.

But even if Murnane’s candidate had lost, the same story could be written about the Philip Morris decision. Had the other guy won, observers would wonder if the millions in personal injury trial lawyer money had swayed the Court.

These questions will continue to come up whenever the Court rules on a high profile case involving personal injuries. You will not see these stories about divorce cases, or juvenile law, or wills and estates, or criminal convictions. That’s because divorce lawyers, and criminal attorneys, and the rest, played no significant role in the 2004 election. Tort cases make up a small share of the Court’s docket, but accounted for nearly all of the campaign money. Take away the millions of dollars in contributions from special interests, and the Court will have room to issue decisions without the criticism that campaign donors called the tune.


Randall Sherman 7:45 PM  

It should be noted for the record that two of the four justices in the majority in this case are Chicago Demorcats, Mary Ann McMorrow and Thomas Fitzgerald, both with strong ties to the Regular Democrats here in Cook County.

Ed Murnane,  10:16 AM  

Accurate point, and significant. While the election of Justice Karmeier did change the "political" balance on the Supreme Court, it has to be noted as Randall did that the four votes to overturn the Madison County case came from two justices elected as Democrats and two elected as Republicans.

In addition, Chief Justice Bob Thomas did not participate because he is reprented in another case by trial lawyer Joe Powers, who participated on the plaintiffs' side of the case.

There is absolutely no doubt that this case would not have gotten to the level it did had it not originated in Madison County. One of the messages of this opinion is the Madison County's judicial system is not going to get away with its past abuses.

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