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Shining a light for justice

A law professor said it’s “extraordinarily unusual” for a state Supreme Court justice to be ordered to give sworn testimony in a civil lawsuit, but it’s also particularly reassuring.

The lawsuit alleges that State Farm conspired to get Justice Lloyd Karmeier elected to the high court in 2004 in an effort to get a $1 billion verdict against the insurer overturned. In 2005, Karmeier refused to recuse himself from the case and was the deciding vote to overturn the verdict.

The plaintiffs argued that questioning Karmeier about his decision to run, the ensuing campaign and campaign financing are central to their case.

A magistrate had ruled that Karmeier couldn’t be deposed, but U.S. District Judge David Herndon in effect said that Karmeier is subject to the same rules as the rest of us. As Herndon wrote in his opinion: “Without allowing the inquiry, there will never be light on the facts of this case and the federal rules will be thwarted.”

Herndon limited questioning to the campaign and said Karmeier cannot be questioned about his deliberations on the court. That strikes the right balance of protecting the workings of the court while helping to answer the questions that remain about Karmeier’s election a decade later.