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There has been a lot of discussions in recent months on abolishing the Missouri Court Plan, which provides that, in all appellate courts, including the Missouri Supreme Court, and some county courts, judges will be appointed by the governor from an approved and vetted panel. Those judges will then stand for retention in an election. This has been how Missouri selects and retains its judges for many years. The plan is so successful, that it is hailed around the country as a model to be followed.

But, since Democrat Governor Jay Nixon was elected in 2008, conservatives and business political groups have called for an end to the Missouri Court Plan. (Never mind that they had no problem with the plan when a Republican was doing the appointing …) It has become a main attack point in these highly partisan political times.

Dismantling the Missouri Court Plan is a bad idea. A very bad idea. And you have to look no further than our neighbor Illinois to know why. Illinois elects its judges, including Supreme Court justices. And tens of millions of dollars have been spent in those campaigns in recent years. And what do contributors get for their money? Anything they want.

This article from the Chicago Tribune tells the story in all its sordid detail. Basically, Justice Lloyd Karmeier, a southern Illinois Republican, was elected to the Illinois Supreme Court in 2004 in a race that cost over $9,000,000.

A $1.18 billion dollar judgment had been entered against State Farm if a class action case for breach of contract in providing non-original manufacturer parts in its collision repairs and hiding that fact from its insureds. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the judgment and then it mades its way to the Illinois Supreme Court.

In filings with the Illinois Supreme Court this week, attorneys for the plaintiffs have alleged and provided supporting documents to demonstrate that Justice Karmeier was actually recruited by State Farm to run for the seat on the Illinois Supreme Court in anticipation of the case being heard. These Court filings indicate that directly and through other entities, State Farm donated between $2.5 million and $4 million dollars to Karemeier’s campaign.

Obviously, I don’t know whether these allegations are true or not. If they are true, it is an eerie parallel to supposed fiction, like John Grisham’s “The Appeal”. If it is true, it is a one of the greatest acts of fraud ever perpetrated.

And even if its not true, it just goes to show you that, inherently, electing judges is fraught with danger. Compare it to the recent Republican debate, in which Governor Perry of Texas said “I’m offended that you think I could be bought with $5,000.” Left unsaid was that he could be bought for $350,000 in campaign contributions. If these allegations are true, State Farm made a damn good investment in Justice Karmeier. $4,000,000 to overturn a $1+ billion dollar judgment? Sounds like a hell of a return on their investment to me.

The St. Louis personal injury defense firm, Sandberg, Phoenix and von Gontard, was at the center of a case in St. Clair County (Belleveille), Illinois that resulted in imposition of drastic sanctions.

SPvG represented Safariland, the manufacture of a ballistic shield used by a Belleville police officer. Sgt. Jon Brough was shot in the face by a shotgun five years ago and claimed that the ballistic shield he was using at the time was defectively designed. Sft. Brough lost his eyesight, sense of smell and was disfigured.

After a lawsuit is filed, the attorneys engage in what is known as discovery. This discovery is conducted under oath, and can consist of requests for documents, written questions, called interrogatories, and recorded question sessions, called depositions. The entire discovery process is based upon each party providing truthful answers and admissions to proper questions and requests. That is where the process went astray in Sgt. Brough’s suit.

According to the St. Louis Post Dispatch, Safariland’s attorneys, SPvG, engaged in “deliberate or intentional, systematic, dishonest conduct.” When Judge Lloyd Cueto learned of the misconduct, he took the drastic step of striking Safariland’s pleadings. When a defendant’s pleadings are stricken, the result is that the allegations of the plaintiff would then be submitted to a jury as true. In effect, a jury would be left with little choice but to find for the plaintiff. It can’t be emphasized enough that this is a drastic remedy that is only used in the most egregious instances of misconduct.

Immediately after the sanction was imposed, rather than seeking to appeal the judge’s decision, Safariland settled for a “substantial amount of money.” Our congratulations goes out to our colleague Bruce Cook who represented Sgt. Brough for a well-won battle.

The American Tort Reform Foundation, the business lobby group that annually names Madison and St. Clair counties in Illinois, as “judicial hellholes” is at it again. In it’s annual attempt to scare the wits out of voters and small businesses, and to influence pro-business “tort reform” legislation, the ATRF has gone beyond it’s poorly masked attempt to influence jurors in what it views as “plaintiff friendly” venues. Now it has taken to including on the list venues which it believes are less troublesome than so-called hellholes, but worth mentioning.In this group it places St. Louis County, Missouri. Now, as an attorney practicing as a plaintiff’s attorney in Missouri for nearly 20 years, this would be laughable if the intent were not so calculatedly evil.For those who are not familiar with the political structure in Missouri, the City of St. Louis is not part of St. Louis County. The City of St. Louis operates as its own county. And the City of St. Louis has been known, for many years, as a “plaintiff-friendly” venue, justified or not. And it is true that plaintiff’s attorneys always felt they could get a fair shake in front of a City jury. Now, St. Louis County has always been a different animal. St. Louis County has been known as a “plaintiff-hostile” venue, where cases with strong liability and serious damages go to die. Ask any practicing trial lawyer in Missouri, and St. Louis County will be listed as a conservative venue. That’s not to say that plaintiff’s can’t win in St. Louis County, they can. Just as a strong liability case can be won in almost any venue. It is just that the perception has always been that juries in St. Louis County, like those in other conservative venues, generally seem to hold plaintiff’s to a higher legal standard than the law requires. While a civil case is to be decided on a preponderance of the evidence, it always seemed that conservative juries seemed to apply a reasonable-doubt standard.And that brings us back to the American Tort De-Form Foundation. In recent years there have been a few substantial verdicts rendered in St. Louis County where liability was clear and damages were severe. Such awards were clearly warranted and they haven’t been over-turned on appeal. This “trend” leads the ATRF to label St. Louis County as a near-hellhole. Preposterous!The reason for this designation is clear. The ATRF and its allies are seeking to taint jury pools. And taint them they will. In 2005 I tried a case in St. Clair County, one of the “hellholes.” Well, it isn’t a hellhole because of the jurors. The ATRF and it’s ilk so poisoned the jury pool that, in response to a written questionnaire prepared by the trial judge, 95% of the jury pool stated that “frivolous lawsuits” were driving up malpractice insurance rates and driving doctors out of Illinois. Interestingly enough, once the jurors heard a little bit about the medical malpractice case they were to hear, a vast majority agreed that my client’s suit wasn’t frivolous and that they would listen to the evidence before they made up their minds. The case settled on day 3 of trial.There are no “judicial hellholes,” only thinly veiled attempts by the pro-business lobby to do anything possible to improperly influence jurors, voters and legislatures with ridiculous “studies” which prove only that if you pay enough for it, you can get a “study” to say anything you want, even that one of the most conservative venues in Missouri can be labeled as a “hellhole.”