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Bill expands merit selection

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The Indiana Legislature is considering a bill that changes the way Lake Superior county judges are chosen.

House Bill 1266, introduced by Reps. Steven Stemler, D-Jeffersonville, Ed Clere, R-New Albany, and Terry Goodin, D-Austin, mandates merit selection for the four Superior county judges, with those positions being placed on the ballot for a retention vote every six years. Currently, the judges are chosen by the electorate – the only four Lake Superior judges not currently subject to merit selection.

Charles Geyh Geyh

In an email to Indiana Lawyer, Julie Glade, president of the Lake County Bar Association said, “The LCBA is pleased and proud that our Legislature is taking a serious look at HB 1266. We are cautiously optimistic that the bill will become law, and if it does, we anticipate that the process of choosing our judiciary will be a much more uniform and much less costly endeavor. Expensive and time-consuming elections such as the Supreme Court justice race in Wisconsin will be avoided. This bill will also introduce cost savings to the community by allowing our courts to more effectively utilize support staff and conduct business more efficiently – something everybody values.”

But not everyone supports merit selection for county-level judges.

Professor Charles Geyh, associate dean for research and John F. Kimberling professor of law at Indiana University Maurer School of Law, explained some of the reasons why people may be opposed to merit selection.

“The public position in opposition is, ‘We don’t want to give up our right to vote,’” Geyh said. His response to that argument is that people don’t vote for parole officers, prison wardens, and others in the criminal justice system that have a direct effect on the lives of people under their oversight.

“Don’t you want to delegate (judicial selection) to the people who want to take the time and energy to really get it right?” he said.

The retention vote, he added, allows the public to vote against judges whom they don’t feel are doing a good job, so merit selection doesn’t take away the public’s power.

Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, says he is in favor of HB1266, but he questions whether the current approach to retention voting makes sense.

“It’s very unfair that every six years … people walk into the voting booth and cannot make the decision because they don’t even recognize the names (of the judges on the ballot) or know that person,” he said. “So something needs to be done in terms of informing the electorate, to make them aware in advance that this is going to be on the ballot, and here’s some information to prepare.”

Geyh said that in rare cases, judges up for a retention vote may find themselves the target of political attacks.

He cited as an example Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Penny White, who in 1998 was the subject of an attack in which the opposition sent faxes throughout the state, urging the public to vote “no” on her retention. She lost her retention vote, and Geyh said that opponents of merit selection might argue that she would have been better able to defend herself against a negative campaign if she had been running in an election. But he said he thinks such attacks would be “pretty unlikely in most trial court settings.”

Jeffry Lind, president of the Indiana State Bar Association, said the bar supports merit selection in communities that are in favor of it, and that it seems merit selection does have public support in Lake County. He thinks opposition may be related to the fact that in Indiana, “Nobody likes to be told what to do.” And Geyh said that the word “merit” might cause some people concern, as it could be interpreted to mean judges who are merit-selected are somehow more qualified than those chosen by voters.

Geyh said that even when judges are chosen by the electorate, “More often than not, they run unopposed.” It’s one of the many reasons why he favors merit selection.

“I think it’s a good idea, and I think it really ought to be the statewide norm, rather than some patchwork system of judicial selection,” Geyh said.•

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  • amen
    The comment below is right on. Statism is not democracy. Appointed judges is statist.
  • elections are ok for everybody else why not judges
    We get to hear all the time about democracy this and that. Yet the powers that be seem to not like elections for judges. Interesting, isnt it? I think elections give a judge pause, and lead to judges that are more frank and honst about their opinions. There is a lot of fakery going on by judges who dont have to participate in elections, a lot of pretending that they dont have political opinions too. I say let the system acknowledge that judges are human more openly, let the public weigh in with elections, and not try and impose euphemistic solutions like "merit selection"-- ie, APPOINTMENT, where no real problem exists in the first place.

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  1. It appears the police and prosecutors are allowed to change the rules halfway through the game to suit themselves. I am surprised that the congress has not yet eliminated the right to a trial in cases involving any type of forensic evidence. That would suit their foolish law and order police state views. I say we eliminate the statute of limitations for crimes committed by members of congress and other government employees. Of course they would never do that. They are all corrupt cowards!!!

  2. Poor Judge Brown probably thought that by slavishly serving the godz of the age her violations of 18th century concepts like due process and the rule of law would be overlooked. Mayhaps she was merely a Judge ahead of her time?

  3. in a lawyer discipline case Judge Brown, now removed, was presiding over a hearing about a lawyer accused of the supposedly heinous ethical violation of saying the words "Illegal immigrant." (IN re Barker) http://www.in.gov/judiciary/files/order-discipline-2013-55S00-1008-DI-429.pdf .... I wonder if when we compare the egregious violations of due process by Judge Brown, to her chiding of another lawyer for politically incorrectness, if there are any conclusions to be drawn about what kind of person, what kind of judge, what kind of apparatchik, is busy implementing the agenda of political correctness and making off-limits legit advocacy about an adverse party in a suit whose illegal alien status is relevant? I am just asking the question, the reader can make own conclsuion. Oh wait-- did I use the wrong adjective-- let me rephrase that, um undocumented alien?

  4. of course the bigger questions of whether or not the people want to pay for ANY bussing is off limits, due to the Supreme Court protecting the people from DEMOCRACY. Several decades hence from desegregation and bussing plans and we STILL need to be taking all this taxpayer money to combat mostly-imagined "discrimination" in the most obviously failed social program of the postwar period.

  5. You can put your photos anywhere you like... When someone steals it they know it doesn't belong to them. And, a man getting a divorce is automatically not a nice guy...? That's ridiculous. Since when is need of money a conflict of interest? That would mean that no one should have a job unless they are already financially solvent without a job... A photographer is also under no obligation to use a watermark (again, people know when a photo doesn't belong to them) or provide contact information. Hey, he didn't make it easy for me to pay him so I'll just take it! Well heck, might as well walk out of the grocery store with a cart full of food because the lines are too long and you don't find that convenient. "Only in Indiana." Oh, now you're passing judgement on an entire state... What state do you live in? I need to characterize everyone in your state as ignorant and opinionated. And the final bit of ignorance; assuming a photo anyone would want is lucky and then how much does your camera have to cost to make it a good photo, in your obviously relevant opinion?

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