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Court reform plan starts with enhanced education proposal

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As part of a larger court reform plan, the governing board of the Judicial Conference of Indiana wants more required education for judges at the state appellate and trial levels.

The board voted unanimously for enhanced educational requirements and has forwarded a proposed rule change to the Indiana Supreme Court for consideration. No timetable exists for when justices must decide that.

Currently, Indiana judges must obtain at least 36 hours for every three-year reporting period, and they must have at least six hours of Continuing Legal Education each year as well as no more than 12 hours of non-legal subject matter courses. Three ethics hours also are required every three years.

Under the new rule proposal, the Judicial Education Committee recommends that judges would need at least 54 hours every three years, or 15 hours annually, and no more than 18 hours could be in non-legal subjects. An extra two hours of ethics learning would be required every three-year period, too.

This would be mandatory for any state level judicial officer, which includes appellate judges and justices, trial judges, magistrates, and full-time commissioners and referees. Requirements for senior judges, part-time court officers, and city and town court judges wouldn’t change.

The point is to ensure that jurists have more educational requirements than the practicing attorneys who come before them. Court leaders say that is mostly the case now, but this would make it mandatory.

This educational rule enhancement is part of the state judiciary’s broad court reform plan unveiled in September, which sets out long-term plans and priorities for improving the Indiana court system through improved education, streamlining and reorganizing court operations and structures, uniform state funding, and an examination of statewide judicial selection.

“Implementation of the strategic plan is moving forward,” said Marion Superior Judge Mark Stoner, who co-chairs the Strategic Planning Committee. “The first step is to require enhanced education for judges which will ensure they are given the tools to improve their skills and knowledge of the law. Better educated judges will improve the quality of justice for citizens.”
 

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  1. The fee increase would be livable except for the 11% increase in spending at the Disciplinary Commission. The Commission should be focused on true public harm rather than going on witch hunts against lawyers who dare to criticize judges.

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  5. From the perspective of a practicing attorney, it sounds like this masters degree in law for non-attorneys will be useless to anyone who gets it. "However, Ted Waggoner, chair of the ISBA’s Legal Education Conclave, sees the potential for the degree program to actually help attorneys do their jobs better. He pointed to his practice at Peterson Waggoner & Perkins LLP in Rochester and how some clients ask their attorneys to do work, such as filling out insurance forms, that they could do themselves. Waggoner believes the individuals with the legal master’s degrees could do the routine, mundane business thus freeing the lawyers to do the substantive legal work." That is simply insulting to suggest that someone with a masters degree would work in a role that is subpar to even an administrative assistant. Even someone with just a certificate or associate's degree in paralegal studies would be overqualified to sit around helping clients fill out forms. Anyone who has a business background that they think would be enhanced by having a legal background will just go to law school, or get an MBA (which typically includes a business law class that gives a generic, broad overview of legal concepts). No business-savvy person would ever seriously consider this ridiculous master of law for non-lawyers degree. It reeks of desperation. The only people I see getting it are the ones who did not get into law school, who see the degree as something to add to their transcript in hopes of getting into a JD program down the road.

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