In New Jersey, we are fortunate that our judges are appointed and vetted through the political process rather than elected as they are in some states. This helps maintain the independence of the judiciary and makes them far less likely to beholden to anyone or anything except the law. A prime of example of what happens when the judiciary is not independent is what happened recently with State Farm Insurance. 4.7 million State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. policyholders allege that their insurance company spent millions of dollars backing a judge during his 2004 state Supreme Court campaign, and a federal judge in Illinois just certified their class action lawsuit against the insurer.
According to plaintiffs, State Farm spent anywhere from $4 million to $4.8 million in Illinois on Lloyd Karmeier’s successful campaign. Just one year later, Karmeier voted to overturn a more than $1 billion dollar judgement against State Farm, allegedly as repayment for the campaign contributions.
In the original case from 1999, plaintiffs claimed that State Farm used lower quality generic replacement parts to repair their vehicles, a violation of terms in their insurance policies. The customers were awarded a $456 million jury verdict for the breach of contract, and the trial judge added on $730 million in damages for the fraud claim. The total verdict was reduced to slightly more than $1 billion by an appellate court, and was one of the largest class action verdicts in the history of the United States.
The new class action suit, approved on September 16 by United States District Judge David Herndon, states that State Farm violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act by scheming to defraud plaintiffs.
This case is an example of the importance of a non-elected judiciary in the United States. Our judicial system needs to be held to the highest possible standard as one of the three branches of our government, and corruption cannot be tolerated whether it’s in the Supreme Court or if it’s in your local municipal court. By allowing potential judicial candidates to run for election, it opens the door for outside parties to exert their financial influence on the people in charge of interpreting the meaning of the laws of our country. There are many people and corporations that would use this chance to secure beneficial rulings, leaving the common people on the outside looking in without the financial means to take part in this multi-million, and in some cases multi-billion dollar game played behind closed doors.
In New Jersey, we believe in the judiciary and its independence. At Levinson Axelrod, we know the system is not perfect but through our dedicated efforts for our clients, we strive to achieve justice through legitimate means of hard work and perseverance of our team of lawyers.