Ill. Judge Wants $7.7 Million In ‘Kane County Chronicle’ Libel Suit

By: E&P Staff

Illinois Chief Justice Robert Thomas may ask for as much as $7.7 million in damages if he is successful in his libel suit against the Kane County (Ill.) Chronicle, the Chicago Sun-Times revealed Monday.

Thomas, a former Chicago Bears player, is suing the Chronicle’s parent company, its managing editor and columnist Bill Page, alleging he was libeled by three 2004 columns in which Page suggested Thomas acted improperly in the case of a state’s attorney who was before the Supreme Court on a disciplinary charge.

A libel suit from a sitting Supereme Court justice is rare. Thomas has argued he needed to file the lawsuit since the columns alleged, in effect, that he had committed a crime, swapping a judicial decision for a political favor.

In an article by staff reporter Eric Herman, the Sun-Times reported that an economist hired by Thomas’ attorney estimates that damage from the libel suit could cost “at minimum” $1.5 million in lost earnings in a post-Supreme Court legal career.

The study, conducted by a University of Illinois finance professor, concluded that if the column’s charges prevented Thomas from winning retention for two additional terms, his lost earnings would range from $3.6 million to $4.1 million, the Sun-Times reported. Thomas’ losses would be the same if the columns prevented him from becoming a federal judge, the professor said.

Thomas’ potential losses could climb as high as $7.7 million, if the column’s charges prevented him from retiring in 2010 to become one of Chicago’s highest-paid private attorneys, the study said.

The Sun-Times quotes from a May 25 deposition in the case in which Thomas says that working at a high-powered law firm is “one of the primary things I’ve thought about doing.” The newspaper said it had “recently obtained” a copy of the deposition.

In the series of Kane County Chronicle columns, Page first suggested that Thomas should have recused himself from judging the disciplinary case against former Kane County State’s Attorney Meg Gorecki, because, Page alleged, he was politically biased against her. Supreme Court justices are elected in Illinois.

Page later wrote that Thomas sought a relatively high punishment for Gorecki — suspension of her law license for a year — but agreed to a four-month suspension in “in return for some high-profile Gorecki supporters endorsing” a political ally of Thomas for a judgeship.

In a controversial decision earlier this year, an Illinois appellate court refused the Chronicle’s request to take depositions of the other Supreme Court justices involved in the disciplinary case. The appeals court said that judges have an “absolute deliberative privilege.” Critics said that would mean that any judge’s conduct while deciding a case, no matter how questionable, must remain secret.

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