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Editorial: All who serve as judges should be lawyers

February 16, 2011
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Indiana Lawyer Editorial
stoner-mark-mugBW Stoner
shewmaker-terry-mugBW Shewmaker

By Judges Mark Stoner and Terry Shewmaker

The Indiana trial court system has several types of courts: Circuit, Superior, Small Claims and one Probate court. In 2009, 1.5 million cases were filed in those courts and all of the cases were heard by judges who are lawyers. Those judges are in good standing with disciplinary authorities and licensed to practice law in Indiana.

Indiana also has approximately 75 City and Town courts. In 2009, 375,000 cases, including criminal misdemeanors and speeding tickets, were heard in these courts. Not all of the judges in those courts are lawyers. Some cities and towns do not require it.

Senate Bill 312 would require all judges in Indiana to be lawyers. Judges who are not lawyers would be allowed to complete their current terms. Their replacements would have to be lawyers in good standing, admitted to practice law in Indiana.

The Indiana Judicial Conference (judges from across the state) and the Strategic Planning Committee of the Conference strongly support SB 312. Indiana judges believe that non-lawyers serving as City and Town court judges attempt to perform their duties to the best of their abilities. We simply believe that in matters of great importance to Indiana citizens, a person who has graduated from law school and passed the bar exam should hear the case.

Hoosiers have important constitutional and statutory rights. Most people think of serious felony cases when they think of constitutional rights. They think of television trials like those shown on “Law & Order.” But Hoosiers have important rights which apply even in matters such as speeding tickets. Citizens having cases heard in City and Town courts can lose their driving privileges or even be jailed. It is important that judges follow all statutes and apply the law properly in all cases. SB 312 would protect Hoosiers’ rights by ensuring that law-trained judges preside over all cases in Indiana, from murder to divorce to speeding tickets.

Most Indiana citizens will never see the inside of a courtroom for a serious felony offense or a complicated contract dispute. But many Indiana citizens will receive a speeding ticket, a parking ticket, or have an issue with their driver’s license that must be resolved in court. We believe all Hoosiers deserve to have a law-trained judge resolving these disputes.

This proposal is just one reform proposed by the Strategic Planning Committee as part of a bigger plan called The New Way Forward. More information can be found at www.courts.in.gov/committees/strategic/. E-mail us with suggestions or words of support.•

__________

The Hon. Mark Stoner
is a judge in Marion Superior Court, and The Hon. Terry Shewmaker, is judge in the Elkhart Circuit Court. They are co-chairs of the Strategic Planning Committee of the Indiana Judicial Conference. The opinions expressed in this column are the authors’.

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  • overkill
    Is law school really necessary for these kind of petty offenses? Not really. And a law like this further enhances the public perception of lawyers as a self serving cartel. The editorial makes good points which are reasonable but that's what I believe.

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  1. What is this, the Ind Supreme Court thinking that there is a separation of powers and limited enumerated powers as delegated by a dusty old document? Such eighteen century thinking, so rare and unwanted by the elites in this modern age. Dictate to us, dictate over us, the massess are chanting! George Soros agrees. Time to change with times Ind Supreme Court, says all President Snows. Rule by executive decree is the new black.

  2. I made the same argument before a commission of the Indiana Supreme Court and then to the fedeal district and federal appellate courts. Fell flat. So very glad to read that some judges still beleive that evidentiary foundations matter.

  3. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

  4. During a visit where an informant with police wears audio and video, does the video necessary have to show hand to hand transaction of money and narcotics?

  5. I will agree with that as soon as law schools stop lying to prospective students about salaries and employment opportunities in the legal profession. There is no defense to the fraudulent numbers first year salaries they post to mislead people into going to law school.

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