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Common Cause, ACLU sue over Marion County judge slating

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The way Marion Superior judges are elected is unconstitutional, a suit filed Thursday by Common Cause and the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana alleges.

“The failure of Indiana law to permit registered voters in Marion County to cast a meaningful vote for all seats on the Marion Superior Court violates the First Amendment” of the U.S. Constitution, according to the complaint filed in federal court in Common Cause v. Indiana Secretary of State, 1:12-CV-1603.

Common Cause, a nationwide nonpartisan group whose mission is to promote open, honest government and voting rights, seeks an injunction against enforcement of Indiana Code 33-33-49-13. The suit says that law, which sets forth the process for electing judges in the Marion Superior Courts, is “unique in Indiana, and perhaps in the nation.”

State law permits each of the major political parties to conduct primary elections to fill exactly half of the judicial seats, “which renders the general election a mere formality,” according to a statement from ACLU of Indiana.

“Voters in Marion County who do not cast a ballot in the primary election, therefore, have absolutely no say in electing judges to the Marion Superior Court. This process means that even people who do vote in the primary election have a say in only half of the judgeships to be filled,” the statement says.

The process of “slating” of Marion County Superior judge races has drawn criticism, since each candidate who earned the party’s endorsement on the primary ballot contributed identical amounts to the local party before each party’s slating convention that preceded the primary. For Democrats, the contribution was $13,100; for Republicans, it was $12,000, according to a review of campaign contributions earlier this year by Indiana Lawyer.

Julia Vaughn, policy director for Common Cause Indiana, said, “For too long the party bosses have controlled the judicial selection process in Marion County and denied voters any meaningful role in it. Marion County voters deserve the same opportunities as voters in other counties to elect judges of their choice. The judicial branch, as arbiters of the law, must be above reproach.”

ACLU of Indiana Executive Director Jane Henegar said, “We are especially mindful this close to the General Election that the right to vote is precious. Our democracy is premised on the right of each citizen to have a meaningful vote. Americans should never be forced to muffle their voices in our government for anyone’s convenience, least of all for political parties.”

The Indianapolis Bar Association earlier this year also resolved to push anew for reform of the Marion County judicial election and selection process.

Indiana Attorney General’s office spokesman Bryan Corbin said Thursday that the office had not been served, but that it would defend the suit.

“Whenever a private plaintiff attempts to sue the Secretary of State’s office in its official capacity, the attorney general represents that office in court. Our legal representation of our state government clients is required by statute,” Corbin said in a statement.
 

 

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  • Present System Doesn't Work
    I disagree. The public generally doesn't know anything about ANY candidates until an actual race begins. Same would hold for judicial candidates. At least give the public a chance to know the candidates.
  • Present system works
    The present system has served the public well. The public doesn't know who the judicial candidates are. The parties do.

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    1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

    2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

    3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

    4. I am sorry to hear this.

    5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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