We were stunned, dazed and amazed to learn our Appellate Court, Workers’ Compensation Division recently flipped not one but two rulings, finding the decisions of the IL Workers’ Compensation Commission were “against the manifest weight of the evidence.” If you aren’t sure, the last statement of the Illinois Supreme Court on this topic was to rule the reviewing courts were not to do this, ever. In these two confusing rulings, dissents were filed pointing out there were facts supporting the Commission’s rulings below and asserting the decisions should have been quickly affirmed.
How does judicial fund-raising affect Illinois workers’ compensation? Well, Justice Kilbride and the members of our highest court select the five members of the Appellate Court, Workers’ Compensation Division. By leaving members on this division of the Appellate Court for years and years, it is possible for those appellate justices to focus their campaign fund-raising efforts on the claimant bar. If you aren’t sure, lawyers on the claimant bar will repeatedly donate lots and lots of money to the justices before whom they appear. Yes, it remains our opinion justice is for sale in this state.
We caution all of our readers to understand all of it is perfectly legal. One thing we truly hate and will continue to hate about Illinois law and jurisprudence is the fact a claimant lawyer who gives thousands of dollars to a justice has no duty to divulge such contributions to anyone before or after a ruling is issued. The problem with changing any or all of it is the justices affected have to support such changes—we still laugh about a state law which tried to limit judges and justices to working until age 75; once it passed, the judges found it unconstitutional!!!
We have now learned there is a striking report on the web from three nonpartisan legal reform groups who did the research and note Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Kilbride's November 2010 retention race was the nation's costliest retention election in 25 years. This report "The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2009-10" by the Justice at Stake Campaign, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law and the National Institute on Money in State Politics confirms the retention election cost almost $3.5 million, with Justice Kilbride raising $2.8 million.
The report indicates Justice Kilbride was the "target of the nation's costliest retention fight since Rose Bird and two fellow justices were forced off the California Supreme Court in 1986." The report notes several business groups were angered by Justice Kilbride's vote to help strike down a ceiling on Illinois medical malpractice awards--they financed a $688,000 challenge to his retention. Those defense groups included the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Justice Partnership (affiliated with the National Association of Manufacturers) and the American Tort Reform Association.
In response to the monies raised by the business side of the matrix, the report indicates the Illinois Trial Lawyers and the Illinois Democratic Party accounted for half of the $2.8 million raised by Justice Kilbride, according to the report with Justice Kilbride receiving contributions by major plaintiffs' law firms routed through the party. The $1.5 million donated by those law firms "almost identically matched the $1.4 million that the party gave to Kilbride," the report states. The report indicates Justice Kilbride's own contributions "showed almost no money from plaintiffs' lawyers, enabling him to avoid direct links to special-interest money." Please note the monies raised by Justice Kilbride to remain in office were about four times the amount raised by the defense groups. In this ongoing battle, ITLA and its millionaires almost always win.
The report’s Executive Summary states:
State judicial elections have been transformed during the past decade. The story of America’s 2000–2009 high court contests—tens of millions of dollars raised by candidates from parties who may appear before them, millions more poured in by interest groups, nasty and misleading ads, and pressure on judges to signal courtroom rulings on the campaign trail—has become the new normal. For more than a decade, partisans and special interests of all stripes have been growing more organized in their efforts to use elections to tilt the scales of justice their way. Many Americans have come to fear that justice is for sale. Unlike previous editions, which covered only the most recent election cycle, this fifth edition of the “New Politics of Judicial Elections” looks at the 2000–2009 decade as a whole. By tallying the numbers and “connecting the dots” among key players over the last five election cycles, this report offers a broad portrait of a grave and growing challenge to the impartiality of our nation’s courts. These trends include:
??The explosion in judicial campaign spending, much of it poured in by “super spender” organizations seeking to sway the courts;
?? The parallel surge of nasty and costly TV ads as a prerequisite to gaining a state Supreme Court seat;
?? The emergence of secretive state and national campaigns to tilt state Supreme Court elections;
?? Litigation about judicial campaigns, some of which could boost special-interest pressure on judges;
?? Growing public concern about the threat to fair and impartial justice—and support for meaningful reforms.
It can be located on the web at: http://www.brennancenter.org/content/resource/the_new_politics_of_judicial_elections. We appreciate your thoughts and comments.