Fortunately, citizens voted to retain Justice Lloyd Karmeier on the Illinois Supreme Court. Because, however, there remains negative residue from the failed efforts to unseat him — efforts that tend to create long-term and unwarranted distrust in our judicial system — we write to give proper perspective to at least one case. Here are the facts.
The widow of a state trooper killed in a traffic accident filed suit in Madison County. The defendants asked to have the case moved to a different county, arguing that, under Illinois law, Madison County was not a proper place for filing the lawsuit (in legal terms, not a proper “venue”). The trial court denied the motion. The appellate court refused to hear an appeal. The defendants then brought the case to the Illinois Supreme Court, where, without any comment whatsoever on the merits of the appeal, all seven of the justices unanimously ordered the appellate court to consider the appeal. Almost a year later, after the appellate court reviewed the case, it held that the case was brought in the wrong county, rejecting what the appellate court saw as “unsupported arguments” of the plaintiff. (Deatherage v. DOT Transportation, Inc., 2014 IL App [5th] 130364-U, ¶23.)
Justice Karmeier was recommended for retention by the Illinois State Bar Association, this state’s largest lawyer group. He is an even-handed and fair-minded jurist. Given the facts spelled out above, to place a stigma on him for joining in a unanimous decision of the Supreme Court entered approximately a year ago — a decision that merely ordered the appellate court to consider which court should hear the case — is wrong. And the unanimous decision of the appellate court, in which Justice Karmeier had no role and which is available for everyone’s review on the Internet, establishes that the motion to remove the case to an appropriate venue was proper.
We should be concerned about what one newspaper called a “savage campaign of insinuation” against Justice Karmeier. Under no circumstances should we condone such tactics. Our greater concern, however, is the effect such tactics have on the trust we place (or refuse to place) in judges.
Gino L. DiVito
Tabet DiVito & Rothstein LLC
Retired Appellate Court Justice
Former President, Illinois Judges Association