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Commission conducts first Tax Court judge interviews

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The Indiana Judicial Nominating Commission is interviewing 14 people who’ve applied to be the state’s next Tax Court judge, narrowing down the list to semi-finalists who will return for second interviews in October.

Starting at 9 a.m., the seven-member commission chaired by Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard has been questioning those interested in the appellate tax court, which will for the first time since its creation in 1986 see a change in leadership once Judge Thomas G. Fisher retires at year’s end. Fifteen had applied, but one person withdrew his name last week leading up to these first-round interviews.

Before taking an hour-long lunch break, the commission had interviewed Martha Wentworth, George Angelone, Hon. Karen Love, Andrew Swain, Hon. Bruce Kolb, Marilyn Meighen, Joseph Pearman, Joby Jerrells, and Melony Sacopulos. The five remaining following lunch included Dan Carwile, Hon. Carol Comer, Randle Pollard, Michelle Baldwin, and Thomas Ewbank.

Each person appeared for a 20-minute interview. The chief justice greeted each applicant who came before the commission today, thanking that person for applying and asking everyone about their interest in the judicial spot. The responses were all similar, differing to a degree based on their own experiences but with many saying this would be a logical evolution in their legal careers and that they wanted to continue the practice of having fair and concise caselaw that Judge Fisher has created during the past 24 years.

“I’ve always enjoyed the intellectual puzzles that tax law presents,” said Melony Sacopulos, general counsel at Indiana State University, as she discussed her work for a national tax office in Washington, D.C., that she said gave her unique experience.

Commissioners asked some of the same questions to applicants, such as their views on the Tax Court’s mission and how the court and judge should interact with the legislature on tax law and issues. Members also turned to applicants’ information about their most significant legal matters and also how those experiences might have prepared them for the tax bench.

Hendricks Superior Judge Karen Love discussed what she calls the “ABCs” of this court, which she described as meaning the attitude of a judge, the balance she can bring based on her experience, and those critical aspects of clarity, consistency, and communication.

Deputy Attorney General Andrew Swain said he didn’t think that ADR Rule 2.7(b)2 applied to the tax court because the attorney general and the governor must approve any mediated settlements. But in the next interview, Administrative Law Judge Bruce Kolb said he wanted to examine why only one case during the past three years has been referred to mediation. Kolb also said his experience with pro se litigants could be beneficial in an area that is sure to see an increase of those cases in coming years.

Attorney George Angelone, who has spent three decades working for the Legislative Services Agency, said he focused on tax and public finance work and that agency is one of the only places you can find a similar caseload to what the Tax Court faces. He noted that two- or three-year waits on some tax issues at the local level isn’t good enough, and more must be done at that stage to make the process efficient. The bar could help on that, possibly through continuing legal education, he said.

The commission is scheduled to finish interviews this afternoon and begin deliberating in executive session at 4 p.m., and will then hold a public vote on who it chooses as semi-finalists. The second interviews are scheduled for Oct. 27, and the commission will forward three names to the governor to make the final decision.
 

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