Kicking Back

Why would Illinois Supreme Court justice Robert R. Thomas, a rugged former placekicker for the Bears, sue a small newspaper’s scrappy columnist for defamation? Some observers believe the judge wants to clear the air before making bigger political moves.

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Unless there is a settlement, Thomas v. Page could stay in court for years. Late last summer, Cook County Circuit Court judge Donald J. O’Brien Jr. denied a defense motion to dismiss; he says the case will probably not be heard until 2006.

Neither the lawsuit-nor Bill Page’s accusations-have discouraged the political speculation around Thomas. Illinois Republicans considered him, among many others-both before and after the Jack Ryan flap-as a candidate in 2004 for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Peter Fitzgerald. Thomas does not rule out a run for political office, although he insists that he is happy on the supreme court. In September, he will take over for Mary Ann McMorrow in the rotating three-year term as chief justice.

Jon Zahm, the Kane County Republican political consultant, says Thomas’s relative youth and judicial prominence make him “worthy of reaching the highest levels” of the political or judicial system.

Thomas’s former coach and fellow Republican agrees. “I hope he goes all the way to the White House,” says Mike Ditka.

A onetime NFL placekicker, in the White House?

“Hey, Jerry Ford was a football player. So was Eisenhower!”

In fact, future political ambitions might be the only strategic explanation for Thomas’s decision to sue a small-time columnist like Bill Page. Left unchallenged, Page’s accusations could become mud for future political opponents to sling at Thomas.

And anybody who knows anything about kickers knows they don’t like getting their uniforms dirty.

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