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.