Friday, November 17, 2006

Was Thomas Trial About More Than His Reputation?

Tucked away in (Elgin’s) Daily Courier-News and the Northwest Herald’s articles on Illinois Chief Justice Robert Thomas’ victory over Shaw Newspaper-owned Kane County Chronicle (sister paper of McHenry County's Northwest Herald) were tid-bits that may have importance for future hotly-contested judicial races.

Consider this statement from Thomas attorney Joe Power, found in reporter Matt Hanley’s Daily Courier-News article:

We're hopeful this will stop the mudslinging in judicial races. On a whole, journalism is very good and very important to Americans. But the First Amendment doesn't protect lies.
and
This should send a message to special-interest groups and renegade journalists that this is no longer tolerated in this state or country. All they had to do was print some sort of retraction. And they wouldn't do it.
The Northwest Herald got a similar quote from Power:
It shows it will not be open season on the judiciary. This sends a message that special interest groups and renegade journalists are not going to be allowed to take their shots at judges.
Could something more be at stake in this case than the damage to Justice Thomas’ reputation?

The 2004 losing candidate for Illinois’ southernmost Supreme Court district, Gordon Maag, a trial lawyer-supported Democrat, sued those opposing his candidacy for the type of criticism he received for $110 million, claiming defamation.

According to the Madison County Record, the campaign flyer in question was entitled,
In Southern Illinois the 'Wheels of Justice' have ground to a screeching halt
and claimed it "cost him the election and future income," again, according to the Record.

Maag just lost in the appellate court.

The Record quotes James A. Knecht’s opinion as saying,
We understand plaintiff's outrage with the flyer. The flyer is full of disparagement and innuendo unbefitting a campaign for judicial office. Disagreement with a judge's decisions is acceptable and criticism is to be expected. Expressing such disagreement and criticism in an inflammatory and unreasonable manner is unseemly and unproductive and has no place in what should be a reasoned debate on differing judicial philosophies.
And, there’s much more along this line in the article.

Might Bob Thomas’ case be used to tone down campaign charges made by judicial opponents who are not part of the media?

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Posted first at McHenry County Blog where the water fight article is not about firemen.

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