The judicial race in Madison County between appointed incumbent Don Weber and challenger David Hylla proves the adage that everything old is new again. What’s old is that the vast majority of the funds come from either personal injury plaintiffs or personal injury defendants, just like the 2004 race between Gordon Maag and Lloyd Karmeier. Indeed, at least 67% of the money raised since July 1 by David Hylla came from donors who gave to Gordon Maag, while at least 81% of the money raised by Don Weber came from donors who gave to Lloyd Karmeier. What’s new is that Weber and Hylla aren’t fighting over a Supreme Court seat. They’re running for a seat on the trial court. So far, they report a combined $533K for the General Election, which is still two weeks away.
Lest there be any doubt that the same pattern continues to play out in other judicial races, witness the Appellate Court race in far southern Illinois. 91% of the funds raised since July 1 by Republican Stephen McGlynn can be traced directly to personal injury defendants and their associations. Democrat Bruce Stewart draws at least 27% of his funds from personal injury plaintiffs; adding the unions whose members are liable to get injured and he gets 44% of his funds from the other side of the tort issue from McGlynn’s donors. The Illinois Republican Party reported paying $567,125 for TV ads on behalf of McGlynn, within a week of receiving $575,000 from the pro-tort reform Institute for Legal Reform. The Party, which now hasn’t enough money to run ads on behalf of its gubernatorial candidate, could not have paid for those McGlynn ads without the infusion from the Washington, DC, based organization. This race just set a record for fundraising in appellate court contests, and it’s personal injury plaintiffs and defendants that are driving the cash.
Personal injury cases matter a lot to tort interests, but that’s not what drives court dockets in southern Illinois, and it’s not the only issue voters need to think about when electing a judge. Circuit and Appellate Court judges are far more likely to hear cases about family law, including divorces and custody battles; criminal law; commercial litigation, including contract disputes and intellectual property; and Probate, including wills, trusts, and division of property. Judges have to be expert at a wide range of legal matters. But the money in these contests increasingly comes overwhelmingly from one area; an area that accounts for a small part of the cases filed in Illinois.