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Chinn: A Few Words About Judicial Elections

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iba-chinn-scottI confess that I am a political junkie. I spend too much time watching and listening to the punditry coming from all parts of the ideological spectrum and from both major political parties. (A healthy dose of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” is a staple of my morning routine.) And for a political junkie, what could be better than 2012 – the mother of all election years in the four-year cycle of American politics?

But if we avert our gaze from the Presidential Election for a few moments, we have some pretty darn important local elections. This is a judicial election year, and in Marion County this year, we have 20 spots on the ballot for judges of the Marion Superior Court. More than half of the local judiciary in the State’s largest and busiest county is up for election. That fact alone makes the 2012 elections a big deal.

So, if these elections are a big deal for judges, lawyers, and the community, what is your Indianapolis Bar Association’s involvement? First, the Judicial Excellence Political Action Committee (JEPAC) began its work late last year to conduct its survey of Marion County judicial candidates. In accordance with its purpose, JEPAC electronically surveyed Indianapolis Bar Association attorney members, attorneys with the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office, attorneys with the Marion County Public Defender’s Office and attorneys who have entered an appearance in the past three years before an incumbent judge seeking re-election for whom an email address was available. The instructions to attorneys surveyed were to answer the questions – regarding work ethic, efficiency, judicial ethics, impartiality, legal application, and judicial temperament – only for those judges or judicial candidates with whom the attorneys had experience in professional settings or circumstances within the last three years.

On January 20, 2012, IndyBar released the results of the JEPAC survey. Every person who supplied information to JEPAC and confirmed his or her intention to file a candidacy for the office of Marion Superior Judge was included in the survey. A total of 4,323 emails were delivered in aid of this electronic survey of which 1,150 were returned with a response (conferring a 26.6% response rate). The results, along with biographical information supplied by the judicial candidates, can be reviewed at www.indyjudges.org.

The survey results are intended to be instructive to the candidates, the major political parties at their slating conventions, the voting public at the primary election, and at the general election (in the case of third-party candidacies). But it probably won’t escape your thoughts, that for lawyers to survey judges for this purpose is not without its pitfalls, especially under Marion County’s system of judicial elections. Some question the utility of the JEPAC surveys. Some don’t like what turns out to the system’s strong if not irrebuttable presumption that the primary election will be the last required legal act for installing an equal amount of judges from each major political party. Still others don’t favor the election of judges at all.

Along with these elections come campaign finance issues. In 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Co. that in some contexts contributions to a judicial campaign from those appearing in front of a judge raises due process concerns. In response, the IndyBar has created Attorneys for an Independent Bench (AIB) – a political action committee that is able to receive contributions in a way that provides a legal option for lawyers to avoid making direct contributions to judicial campaigns. And retired Indiana Supreme Court Justice Theodore Boehm and retired U.S. Magistrate Judge V. Sue Shields recently co-authored a letter to the Indiana Judicial Qualifications Commission to gain clarification regarding whether Rule 4.1 of the Indiana Code of Judicial Conduct prohibits the payment of slating fees from judicial candidates seeking a party endorsement.

I don’t think the answers to questions of reform versus maintaining the status quo – either on the structure of the judicial electoral system or campaign finance for judges – are obvious. Competing values are at stake. So, against this backdrop of uncomfortable questions, the only thing we know for sure is that there are differing and sincerely held viewpoints on every aspect of our judicial elections in Marion County. But the prospect of controversy should not stifle open and good faith discussions about those differences. And the IndyBar has been and will continue to be part of fostering some of those discussions.•

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  1. On a related note, I offered the ICLU my cases against the BLE repeatedly, and sought their amici aid repeatedly as well. Crickets. Usually not even a response. I am guessing they do not do allegations of anti-Christian bias? No matter how glaring? I have posted on other links the amicus brief that did get filed (search this ezine, e.g., Kansas attorney), read the Thomas More Society brief to note what the ACLU ran from like vampires from garlic. An Examiner pledged to advance diversity and inclusion came right out on the record and demanded that I choose Man's law or God's law. I wonder, had I been asked to swear off Allah ... what result then, ICLU? Had I been found of bad character and fitness for advocating sexual deviance, what result then ICLU? Had I been lifetime banned for posting left of center statements denigrating the US Constitution, what result ICLU? Hey, we all know don't we? Rather Biased.

  2. It was mentioned in the article that there have been numerous CLE events to train attorneys on e-filing. I would like someone to provide a list of those events, because I have not seen any such events in east central Indiana, and since Hamilton County is one of the counties where e-filing is mandatory, one would expect some instruction in this area. Come on, people, give some instruction, not just applause!

  3. This law is troubling in two respects: First, why wasn't the law reviewed "with the intention of getting all the facts surrounding the legislation and its actual impact on the marketplace" BEFORE it was passed and signed? Seems a bit backwards to me (even acknowledging that this is the Indiana state legislature we're talking about. Second, what is it with the laws in this state that seem to create artificial monopolies in various industries? Besides this one, the other law that comes to mind is the legislation that governed the granting of licenses to firms that wanted to set up craft distilleries. The licensing was limited to only those entities that were already in the craft beer brewing business. Republicans in this state talk a big game when it comes to being "business friendly". They're friendly alright . . . to certain businesses.

  4. Gretchen, Asia, Roberto, Tonia, Shannon, Cheri, Nicholas, Sondra, Carey, Laura ... my heart breaks for you, reaching out in a forum in which you are ignored by a professional suffering through both compassion fatigue and the love of filthy lucre. Most if not all of you seek a warm blooded Hoosier attorney unafraid to take on the government and plead that government officials have acted unconstitutionally to try to save a family and/or rescue children in need and/or press individual rights against the Leviathan state. I know an attorney from Kansas who has taken such cases across the country, arguing before half of the federal courts of appeal and presenting cases to the US S.Ct. numerous times seeking cert. Unfortunately, due to his zeal for the constitutional rights of peasants and willingness to confront powerful government bureaucrats seemingly violating the same ... he was denied character and fitness certification to join the Indiana bar, even after he was cleared to sit for, and passed, both the bar exam and ethics exam. And was even admitted to the Indiana federal bar! NOW KNOW THIS .... you will face headwinds and difficulties in locating a zealously motivated Hoosier attorney to face off against powerful government agents who violate the constitution, for those who do so tend to end up as marginalized as Paul Odgen, who was driven from the profession. So beware, many are mere expensive lapdogs, the kind of breed who will gladly take a large retainer, but then fail to press against the status quo and powers that be when told to heel to. It is a common belief among some in Indiana that those attorneys who truly fight the power and rigorously confront corruption often end up, actually or metaphorically, in real life or at least as to their careers, as dead as the late, great Gary Welch. All of that said, I wish you the very best in finding a Hoosier attorney with a fighting spirit to press your rights as far as you can, for you do have rights against government actors, no matter what said actors may tell you otherwise. Attorneys outside the elitist camp are often better fighters that those owing the powers that be for their salaries, corner offices and end of year bonuses. So do not be afraid to retain a green horn or unconnected lawyer, many of them are fine men and woman who are yet untainted by the "unique" Hoosier system.

  5. I am not the John below. He is a journalist and talk show host who knows me through my years working in Kansas government. I did no ask John to post the note below ...

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