State Farm recently made the news for getting caught buying justice in Illinois. The insurer paid millions to a judge’s campaign in order to get a billion-dollar verdict against it reversed.
In 1999, State Farm lost a $1,056,180,000 verdict (yes, that’s a billion dollars) for repairing insured vehicles with cheaper, aftermarket parts instead of OEM parts.
State Farm appealed to the Appellate Court of Illinois and lost in 2001. The insurer then appealed to the Supreme Court of Illinois in 2002. While this appeal was pending, the insurer campaigned for and donated money to the Republican candidate in a race for the Supreme Court of Illinois, the very court that would decide State Farm’s appeal. The candidate backed by State Farm ultimately won the election, which was the most expensive state supreme court race in U.S. history. The judge, with State Farm’s help, raised $9.3 million for the race.
When the policyholders who won the verdict objected to this judge deciding the appeal, State Farm told the court it had only donated $350,000 to the judge’s campaign. The judge refused to sit the case out and allow it to be decided by impartial judges. Instead, the judge cast the deciding vote to overturn the verdict against State Farm, which occurred in 2005.
Years later, a former FBI agent discovered that State Farm lied when it said it only donated $350,000 to the judge’s campaign. State Farm actually donated between $2.4 and $4 million to the campaign. So, State Farm provided between 26% and 43% of the campaign’s total budget, yet lied to the Supreme Court of Illinois by saying it made a routine donation amounting to just 4% of the total campaign budget.
Recently, attorney and former Republican senator from Tennessee Fred Thompson (among others) filed a class action lawsuit to reinstate the $1 billion verdict against State Farm.
At the very least, the Supreme Court of Illinois should acknowledge its mistake and reconsider the tainted judgment. It will be interesting to see what becomes of State Farm and the Illinois Supreme Court judge. One would think that punitive damages in the class action, as well as criminal prosecution and hefty fines for perjury and bribing a judge, might deter State Farm from lying the a state’s highest court in the future. As for the judge, a criminal sentence for obstruction of justice would seem to be in order.