February 14, 2011
By Bill Kraus
Not too many years ago there was a Supreme Court election in Illinois which attracted the participation of two outside groups.
One of the group’s agenda was to cap, contain, control, reduce the amount that could be awarded in personal injury cases. The other group was presumably composed of lawyers who represented the plaintiffs in personal injury cases and did not like capping, containing, controlling, or reducing the amounts granted by juries to their clients.
The lack of disclosure being what it is there was no way to be sure who belonged or contributed to these two groups. A problem. Actually, a correctible problem which is not being corrected in Wisconsin for sure and elsewhere probably.
By the time this Illinois election was over some $13 million had been spent on ads for and against the candidates involved.
Most of it came from the aforementioned “groups.”
The advertising was entirely focused on an issue which was totally irrelevant to the goals of the two groups who were so heavily involved. The issue in their ads had to do with which of the two contenders was tougher on crime.
The money spent on ads by the candidates themselves did not deal with this issue, but whatever the candidates had to say about the reasons for people to vote them was overwhelmed by the spending on the minor subject [as far as the Illinois and most state supreme courts for that matter are concerned] of crime.
There is a possibility that the current race for Justice Prosser’s seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court could draw this kind of attention as well.
An organization called the Wisconsin Civil Justice Council is running ads extolling the virtues of Justice Prosser already. This organization, whose members and money sources are of course unknown, falls into the “cap, contain, control, reduce” category mentioned previously.
There are several organizations who do not agree with the Wisconsin Civil Justice Council. They have been silent so far. The reason is that they do not know if Justice Prosser will survive the primary. If so, spending money against him would be foolish. They also don’t know who will oppose him if he does survive and whether that candidate is more likely to favor less or no capping, controlling, containing and, reducing jury awards. They do loom however.
This may be a false alarm, of course.
Don’t bet on it.
What you can bet on is that the ads for and against the candidates picked by these 3rd party organizations will not be about the items they are really concerned about.
The Wisconsin Civil Justice Council is already praising Justice Prosser for his stalwartness in opposition to crime. Is there anyone in the race who isn’t opposed to crime? Or to put it another way, they picked this issue for its emotional impact in hopes it would get them a winner who was sympathetic on their issue.
As, if, and when the people who represent the causes of injured plaintiffs weigh in to this campaign, you can be assured that they will be talking about toughness on crime as well.
And we will have Illinois redux?
At what cost? Thirteen million sounds ridiculous, but who would have suspected that a governor’s race in Wisconsin a once abstemious, fiscally conservative state would have attracted $37 million in contributions from partisans.
To sum up, if the campaign does come to this, you won’t know who is involved, but you can know what is.
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