The final days before every election are tense but in Illinois judicial contests, they are very predictable.
The Illinois Trial Lawyers Association, following their leader, Judy Cates of St. Clair County, are vowing a “Crusade for Civil Justice.” In her most recent comments in the ITLA online newsletter, Cates announced that, “we are active today in the election process. Many of our members have committed themselves to participate in the “get out the vote” campaign. During this election season, ITLA members will work the polls, make telephone calls and urge family, friends and clients to vote.
It remains to be seen how many ITLA members will “work the polls” but it is certain they will dig deeply into their pocket books and check books to control election outcomes.Two Illinois judicial races are at the top of their list. Both, not surprisingly, involve Madison County.
ITLA members have already put more than $600,000 into the Fifth District Appellate contest and the Madison County circuit court race. In the Circuit Court race, one ITLA member, asbestos champion SimmonsCooper, has poured $160,000 into the campaign of fellow asbestos lawyer, David Hylla. Hylla is working to unseat Donald Weber, former Madison County prosecutor and an appointee of Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier.
As of last Monday, October 23, Hylla’s campaign had received $466,751 in contributions and $345,994 of that was from plaintiffs’ lawyers — 88.3%!
Hylla has even received an $850 contribution from one of his asbestos clients.
By contrast, Weber’s campaign had collected less than $150,000 since the beginning of the year.
Hylla’s campaign has been using extensive direct mail and it is likely that there will be a surge of television advertising — most of it negative — during he final eight days.
The question will be whether the voters of Madison County — who rose up against the trial lawyer control of the courts in 2004 — will follow their instincts and not be swayed by Judy Cates and David Hylla and their “crusade.”
More attacks and more heavy trial lawyer spending are expected in the Fifth Appellate district where Karmeier appointee Justice Steve McGlynn appears to be doing well against Democratic challenger Judge Bruce Stewart.
Stewart has launched a negative campaign — even attacking Justice Karmeier’s appointment of McGlynn as a “reward” for McGlynn’s political service. In fact, McGlynn was appointed by the full Illinois Supreme Court upon Karmeier’s recommendation, but the recommendation was made after a review process by a bi-partisan screening panel.
In Central Illinois, there is certain to be a similar trial lawyer-backed effort to stop the momentum of the Michael Powers campaign for the Third Appellate District seat. Powers campaign appears to be doing well but this is the district in which Illinois Democratic Party Chairman Michael Madigan dumped several hundred thousands of dollars late in the 2000 judicial campaign to win a Supreme Court seat for Justice Thomas Kilbride.
Powers’ opponent, Associate Judge Vicki Wright, has received a flurry of contributions within the last few days, including several from teachers’ unions and big time trial lawyers. On one day a week ago, she reported contributions from ITLA President Judy Cates and from Chicago powerhouse plaintiffs’ firm, Power Rogers and Smith.
So it is clear that plaintiffs’ lawyers have their sights set on these three races and a surge of money and continued dirty tricks in the final week could mean the difference.