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In a complaint to a judicial ethics board, an Illinois Supreme Court justice has been accused of selling his votes on the court-or giving the appearance of it-because of where he got his campaign contributions. The allegations against Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd A. Karmeier reflect just the kind of circumstances that the state of Minnesota hoped to avoid when it asked the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse an 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision that invalidated key provisions of its campaign-reform rules. Last month, the high court declined to get involved. Dimick v. Republican Party of Minnesota, No. 05-566 [NLJ, Jan. 30]. Critics of the court’s inaction say it will open the floodgates to judicial elections in which candidates solicit campaign contributions from those who might one day have business before their court. Illinois has no limits on the amounts or sources of campaign contributions. Common Cause and two other organizations allege that much of the $4.8 million Karmeier spent in the 2004 race-in which the nearly $9 million raised by the two candidates set national records for judicial races-came from parties in two cases in which he would become the swing vote. The appeals from billion-dollar judgments were pending before the election and argued before Karmeier took his seat. Karmeier had a duty to recuse himself, the organizations that filed the complaints assert. When he did not, a recusal motion was made in Avery v. State Farm Mutual Insurance Co., 216 Ill. 2d 100 (2005), a breach of contract and consumer fraud class action that drew a $1 billion award. While Karmeier cast deciding votes on issues in Avery, effectively dismissing the case, the court unanimously decided that the nationwide class certification had been erroneous. It is alleged that State Farm executives, amici and their lawyers directly contributed $350,000 to Karmeier’s campaign. Also alleged is that the Illinois State and U.S. chambers of commerce directly and indirectly contributed $1.77 million. A State Farm executive sits on each of these chamber boards. State Farm’s attorney said that it was ludicrous to believe that State Farm could control the Chamber of Commerce when it had one of 64 boards seats at the state level and one of 100 at the national level. “It’s really outrageous. The campaign was a fight between a Republican and a Democrat,” said Sheila Birnbaum of New York’s Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. “A handful of State Farm employees contributed a total of $1,850 to his campaign.” Karmeier’s accusers also allege that he should have recused himself from a tobacco case in which he was the swing vote in reversing a $10 billion judgment involving light cigarettes. Price v. Philip Morris Inc., No. 76236 (2005). They allege that an amicus contributed $1.2 million to his campaign and that Philip Morris’ outside counsel gave $16,800. Dawn Schneider, spokeswoman for Altria Group Inc., the parent company of Philip Morris USA, called the allegations preposterous. “Plaintiffs never even requested that Justice Karmeier recuse himself.” Karmeier declined to comment. The Illinois Judicial Inquiry Board is first required to decide whether an investigation is even warranted.

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