Metro-East News

Washington County native will head Illinois’ high court

File photo of Lloyd A. Karmeier
File photo of Lloyd A. Karmeier

Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd A. Karmeier will become the next chief justice.

Karmeier was unanimously elected to the office by his fellow justices for the three-year term beginning Oct. 26, according to a press release from the Supreme Court.

“I appreciate the confidence shown by the other members of the court in electing me to this position,” Karmeier said in a press release. “Since joining the court in 2004, I have had the privilege of serving under five different chief justices, all of whom have done an outstanding job. I will do my very best to live up to the high standard they have set.”

Among other duties, the chief justice controls and schedules the Supreme Court’s agenda for consideration in conference by the court during its five formal terms each year, supervises all appointments to Supreme Court committees, serves as chairperson of the executive committee of the constitutionally mandated Illinois Judicial Conference and presents the court’s annual budget request to the Illinois General Assembly.

Steven Kernan, who served as Karmeier’s chief judge in the 20th Judicial Circuit, said he was pleased with Karmeier’s selection.

“He’s a great choice for chief judge,” Kernan said. “He’s a hardworking judge. He’s a good judge. He’s a fair judge. Plus, he’s a nice guy.”

The news comes three days after U.S. District Judge David Herndon certified a class in an action against State Farm Mutual Insurance, Ed Murnane, past president of the Illinois Civil Justice League and State Farm’s William G. Shepherd. Karmeier is named as an “interested party” in the case.

In 2009, Karmeier, a Republican, ran against 5th District Appellate Court Judge Gordon Maag, a Madison County Democrat, in what was, up until then, the most costly Supreme Court election on record. Reports range from $8 million to $10 million spent on the campaign.

Maag gained support from trial lawyers. Tort-reform groups and business threw their support behind Karmeier, who won.

In 2014, Karmeier squeaked by in a close retention race. Plaintiff’s lawyers spent $1.3 million to push him off the bench.

Questions were raised when the parent company of Philip Morris contributed $500,000 to the Republican Party a few weeks after the Illinois Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. The Republicans dumped $950,000 into campaign ads supporting Karmeier.

In the U.S. District Court of Southern Illinois, a case against Karmeier’s campaign raises questions about State’s Farm’s involvement in Karmeier’s 2004 campaign.

Without Karmeier, plaintiff’s lawyers reasoned they may have a chance at two cases pending before the Supreme Court, including a $10.1 billion judgment against tobacco giant Phillip Morris and a $1 billion judgment against insurer State Farm.

Karmeier could not be reached for comment on the State Farm case.

Karmeier takes over for Rita B. Garman as chief justice on Friday. He is 76, according to his Wikipedia page.

I appreciate the confidence shown by the other members of the court in electing me to this position. Since joining the court in 2004, I have had the privilege of serving under five different chief justices, all of whom have done an outstanding job. I will do my very best to live up to the high standard they have set.

Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier

“I congratulate my friend and colleague, Justice Lloyd Karmeier, on his selection as our chief justice. I have known Justice Karmeier for many years and hold him in the highest regard,” Garman said. “I have laways appreciated his thoughtful legal analysis and his judicial temperament. Justice Karmeier is one of those rare individuals who can graciously offer and accept constructive criticism.

“As a result, his comments to me have often improved my opinions; my comments to him are always given due consideration. This ability to be open-minded and collegial is important in any justice, but most particularly in a chief justice. He will do a marvelous job.”

Karmeier will be the state’s 120th Chief Justice. He is also the second person from Washington County to hold the office. Justice Byron O. House was the first. Karmeier formerly served as House’s law clerk.

Karmeier is a native and lifelong resident of Washington County, where he attended a one-room grade school. After graduating valedictorian from Okawville Community High School, he attended the University of Illinois, where he received both his undergraduate and law degrees.

Karmeier clerked for House from 1964-68, served as Washington County state’s attorney from 1968-72 and clerked for U.S. District Court Judge James Foreman from 1972-73. He practiced law with the firm of Hohlt, House, DeMoss & Johnson from 1964-86. He was the resident Washington County Circuit Judge in the 20th Judicial Circuit from 1986-2004, when he was elected to the Illinois Supreme Court.

In addition to his regular duties, Karmeier is the Supreme Court liaison to the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, the Minimum Continuing Legal Education Board and the Supreme Court Committee on jury instructions in criminal cases. Since 2013, he has also served as chairman of the Illinois Courts Commission, the independent body established under the Illinois Constitution to hear and decided cases in which judges are charged with official misconduct. He will leave that post upon assuming his duties a chief judge. Justice Anne M. Burke will succeed him.

Karmeier received the Illinois Justice Association’s Harold Sullivan Award in 2010 and the Joseph Bartylak Award from the Lawyer’s Assistance Program in 2015. Chicago Lawyer Magazine named him Person of the Year in 2016.

Karmeier pledged to continue efforts to make the judicial branch more efficient, effective and accessible.

“We have made great stride in those areas over the past several year,” Karmeier said. “and we have done so despite the state’s considerable economic difficulties. Thanks to the outstanding personnel the court has assembled in its Administrative Office and its various boards and commissions. I am confident we will be able to build on that momentum in the years to come. “

Karmeier and his wife, Mary, reside in Nashville. They have two children and six grandchildren.

An installation ceremony honoring Karmeier’s election as chief justice will be held at the Illinois Supreme Court Building in Springfield on Monday, Oct. 31. Justice Rita B. Garman will administer the oath of office.