Commission sends 3 names as finalists for Tax Court opening

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Within two months, Indiana will have a new state tax judge for only the second time ever.

The Indiana Judicial Nominating Commission has recommended that that the governor consider Bloomington attorney Joby Jerrells, Hendricks Superior 3 Judge Karen Love, and attorney Martha Wentworth of Greenwood as finalists for the state’s only specialized appellate court.

Gov. Mitch Daniels will make the final decision on who replaces Judge Thomas G. Fisher. Judge Fisher retires from the tax bench on Jan. 1, 2011, culminating a legal career that’s included 24 years of service as the state’s first and only tax court judge.

Meeting with seven semi-finalists on Oct. 27, the commission interviewed four women and three men for 25 minutes each. These second interviews followed an initial round on Sept. 27 with 14 applicants and delved more in-depth into each person’s background and what he or she thinks about the tax court. Aside from the finalists, the others interviewed were: George Angelone, Dan Carwile, Hon. Carol Comer, and Melony Sacopulos.

The commission had submitted a question to each semi-finalist, asking them to reflect on how the tax judge might contribute to the development of the state’s jurisprudence and to the improvement of the overall judiciary.

“All the candidates have experience that gives us the core competency and intellect, which is good news for this commission and the state,” said banking attorney Dan Carwile from Evansville, one of the semi-finalists.

One of the main themes discussed during the second round of interviews focused on public access and transparency and making sure the tax court operates efficiently so that its cases move as quickly as possible and the public understands what is happening.

Administrative law judge and semi-finalist Carol Comer told the commission that courts in general are considered “scary” places for non-attorneys and that the entire judiciary needs to do a better job with transparency and access.

“The point is, the Tax Court needs to be just as accessible for the layperson as someone represented by counsel,” she said. “Most claims don’t make it to court because that’s where things become ‘very legal and complicated.’”

She said the court’s message must reach the broadest possible audience, and that using Twitter and Facebook could even be something to consider for the future in order to “be more conscious on how ideas are communicated concisely, clearly, quickly, and to the point.”

“Modern communication is changing,” she said. “Imagine a day when the Tax Court has a Facebook page where people can befriend and see opinions as they’re issued, or get updates from the court as they happen. That’s not different from what’s on the court website now, but it’s just a different form for the more modern generation.”

Chief Justice Shepard complimented everyone who’d applied for the post and said it was a tough decision for the commission to narrow down the initial or semi-finalist list, but that members were confident these were great choices for the governor to consider.


A second-career attorney who’d worked in computer operations before enrolling in and graduating from Indiana University School of Law - Indianapolis in 2003, Jerrells now works as both a deputy prosecutor in the Attorney General’s Office and is also a self-employed attorney out of his home in Bloomington. He talked about his experience in all types of law, from tax and civil issues to criminal prosecutions and corporate clients. He ran for Monroe County judge in 2008 but was defeated in the general election.

If chosen for this appellate seat, Jerrells said he would be interested in trying to “enhance, hone, and improve” the jurisprudence that has been created during the past quarter century. He said an electronic docket would be beneficial for that court’s efficiency and that he’d want to make sure pro se litigants understood the process.

Responding to a question about the structure of how appeals come from the Department of Revenue, Jerrells told members that the issue is “brewing” and that the discretion given by the Tax Court to those state agency decisions might need to be examined, possibly by a rule or statute. He also said timeliness should be examined and efficiency should be improved if necessary, particularly since there’s no “lazy judge” rule as exists for state trial courts.

“Since there’s going to be a new tax judge, there’s an opportunity where we can determine what needs to change,” he said.


The only trial judge interviewed, Judge Love said the tax judge’s responsibility is to provide “timely and affordable justice for all” and that her experience on the bench since 1995 has prepared her for this role on the administrative, legal and judiciary sides. She hopes the tax court judge can help Indiana become a leader in tax law just like it is known nationally for jury reform.

In addition to her judicial experience, Love has also practiced law privately, worked as a certified accountant, and she helped draft the state’s Child Support Guidelines. Nominating commission members also asked about her experience on a bank board and the decisions she’d had to make in that role.

Though noting that appellate courts aren’t doing their jobs to effectuate change, Judge Love noted that she’d conduct a review of pending cases and actively communicate with outgoing Judge Fisher as well as the practicing bar to get familiar with the court.

One commission member noted that he was impressed with her writing, and Judge Love noted that she’s learned from the lawyers and other jurists throughout the state. “I’m a product of the legal profession, the judiciary in Indiana,” she said. “I want you to see what trial judges are like, and I want to make them proud.”


Wentworth echoed many of the aspects that her fellow semi-finalists pointed out, and she noted that she’d spent time reading State of the Judiciary speeches to get an idea of how the Hoosier judiciary has changed through the years. Today, Wentworth serves as tax director for the multi-state group Deloitte Tax LLP. Her previous professional roles have included clerking for the Tax Court in the early 1990s and working closely with the state Department of Revenue. Her experience shows that she’s advocated for continuing education, professionalism and collegiality, she said.

Saying that judges must be careful in communicating with lawmakers, Wentworth said it would be appropriate to help the legislature understand what possible unintended consequences might result from state statute changes. She said the state faces so many intriguing and challenging legal questions on tax law, such as what is considered distortion on taxes, the amount of discretion the DOR has in allowing separate corporate entities to file separate or joint returns, and how the state agency can discretionarily change federal taxable income.

“My first job out of law school was working for a judge. I never thought I’d have this opportunity, but when it came right down to it, I couldn’t just not try. I have such a passion for tax law and for Indiana’s tax law to be fair and good and have other states look to us. That, to me, is so important; that pride is worth so much more than what I’m doing now.”

The governor’s choice

Daniels’ general counsel David Pippen, who sat through all of the interviews, said the process hasn’t been formalized and he wasn’t sure how the three finalists might be interviewed or whether a hypothetical case might be presented to the trio as was done with the most recent Indiana Supreme Court vacancy.

By law, Daniels has 60 days to make a decision from the time a final report is sent from the nominating commission. The commission sent it to the governor Nov. 5. Though he has until early January to make a decision, the governor is expected to announce the new jurist by the end of this year. If that doesn’t happen, the chief justice can pick from the three finalists’ names.•


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  1. Especially I would like to see all the republican voting patriotic good ole boys to stop and understand that the wars they have been volunteering for all along (especially the past decade at least) have not been for God & Jesus etc no far from it unless you think George Washington's face on the US dollar is god (and we know many do). When I saw the movie about Chris Kyle, I thought wow how many Hoosiers are just like this guy, out there taking orders to do the nasty on the designated bad guys, sometimes bleeding and dying, sometimes just serving and coming home to defend a system that really just views them as reliable cannon fodder. Maybe if the Christians of the red states would stop volunteering for the imperial legions and begin collecting welfare instead of working their butts off, there would be a change in attitude from the haughty professorial overlords that tell us when democracy is allowed and when it isn't. To come home from guarding the borders of the sandbox just to hear if they want the government to protect this country's borders then they are racists and bigots. Well maybe the professorial overlords should gird their own loins for war and fight their own battles in the sandbox. We can see what kind of system this really is from lawsuits like this and we can understand who it really serves. NOT US.... I mean what are all you Hoosiers waving the flag for, the right of the president to start wars of aggression to benefit the Saudis, the right of gay marriage, the right for illegal immigrants to invade our country, and the right of the ACLU to sue over displays of Baby Jesus? The right of the 1 percenters to get richer, the right of zombie banks to use taxpayer money to stay out of bankruptcy? The right of Congress to start a pissing match that could end in WWIII in Ukraine? None of that crud benefits us. We should be like the Amish. You don't have to go far from this farcical lawsuit to find the wise ones, they're in the buggies in the streets not far away....

  2. Moreover, we all know that the well heeled ACLU has a litigation strategy of outspending their adversaries. And, with the help of the legal system well trained in secularism, on top of the genuinely and admittedly secular 1st amendment, they have the strategic high ground. Maybe Christians should begin like the Amish to withdraw their services from the state and the public and become themselves a "people who shall dwell alone" and foster their own kind and let the other individuals and money interests fight it out endlessly in court. I mean, if "the people" don't see how little the state serves their interests, putting Mammon first at nearly every turn, then maybe it is time they wake up and smell the coffee. Maybe all the displays of religiosity by American poohbahs on down the decades have been a mask of piety that concealed their own materialistic inclinations. I know a lot of patriotic Christians don't like that notion but I entertain it more and more all the time.

  3. If I were a judge (and I am not just a humble citizen) I would be inclined to make a finding that there was no real controversy and dismiss them. Do we allow a lawsuit every time someone's feelings are hurt now? It's preposterous. The 1st amendment has become a sword in the hands of those who actually want to suppress religious liberty according to their own backers' conception of how it will serve their own private interests. The state has a duty of impartiality to all citizens to spend its judicial resources wisely and flush these idiotic suits over Nativity Scenes down the toilet where they belong... however as Christians we should welcome them as they are the very sort of persecution that separates the sheep from the wolves.

  4. What about the single mothers trying to protect their children from mentally abusive grandparents who hide who they truly are behind mounds and years of medication and have mentally abused their own children to the point of one being in jail and the other was on drugs. What about trying to keep those children from being subjected to the same abuse they were as a child? I can understand in the instance about the parent losing their right and the grandparent having raised the child previously! But not all circumstances grant this being OKAY! some of us parents are trying to protect our children and yes it is our God given right to make those decisions for our children as adults!! This is not just black and white and I will fight every ounce of this to get denied

  5. Mr Smith the theory of Christian persecution in Indiana has been run by the Indiana Supreme Court and soundly rejected there is no such thing according to those who rule over us. it is a thought crime to think otherwise.