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Commission mulls retention, mandates

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A legislative study committee on courts delved into a variety of topics on Thursday afternoon, ranging from a new judicial retention Web site, judicial mandates, and the first new court request of the year.

During the two-hour meeting, the Commission on Courts got a glimpse of prototype Web pages being developed that are focused on judicial retention, a move to make the judiciary more transparent for the general public.

The Indiana Supreme Court's Division of State Court Administration will run the upcoming site and will likely make it a link on the main Web site of Indiana's judiciary in coming months, according to the division's Chief Deputy Executive Director David Remondini.

Indiana Court of Appeals Judges Terry Crone and Cale Bradford told commission members that efforts have been under way for about a year to improve the accessibility for the public information already available in various places online.

"This is a consolidation of what's already publicly accessible, and is meant to be a one-stop shop," Judge Bradford said, as the judges displayed the prototype pages on a screen for members to see.

Judge Crone pointed out that these prototype pages are a platform to build on and expand, and that they can be changed in any way the commission or courts see fit to best get the information out to the public and legal community.

From the site, visitors will be able to get a lesson in how the courts operate, a history and rundown of Indiana's retention system, and be able to view biographies about any of the jurists up for retention. The court plans to work with Lexis in providing any articles pertaining to a particular judge, and plans to spend more than $4,000 to offer a search engine that links to particular opinions from a judge and allows the visitor to search those opinions by keyword. A list of webcast appellate arguments will also be available under that particular jurist's name.

Links also will be available for various organizations, such as newspapers, blogs, and specialty bars. The Indiana State Bar Association's annual survey of attorneys on retention judges also will be available, the judges and ISBA president Doug Church said.

Commission members commended the move, as did State Rep. Ralph Foley, R-Martinsville, who spoke at the meeting about his interest in seeing judicial transparency

During the meeting Thursday, commission members also:

- Discussed judicial mandates and Trial Rule 60.5, and potential changes in state law regarding mandates. This topic sparked discussion of court restructuring, such as the state taking over control of county courts or mandating that the Indiana Attorney General's Office represent any jurists in judicial mandate litigation, rather than allowing the judges to retain private counsel.

- Heard this year's first request for new courts from Johnson Circuit Judge Mark Loyd, who wants a new superior judge in 2012 and another in 2016. The county ranks 14th in the need for new judges based on 2007 weighted caseload measures; the last addition was its third superior court in 1997.

- Heard from Court of Appeals Chief Judge John Baker, who told commission members about the appellate court's progress in 2007: Five new staff positions were filled last year; the court saw 247 more fully briefed cases than the previous year, issued 359 more majority opinions than the year before; and the court had 295 cases not circulated by year's end, which falls below the national standard of 300 for optimal appellate court efficiency. This year, the court expects 100 percent clearance of an estimated 2,970 cases. Chief Judge Baker did not make a request for a new sixth judicial panel, even though the commission agenda listed the item. That need has been discussed but not officially requested during the past year.

The commission has not yet set a date for its third meeting.

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