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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. Indiana's seatbelt law is not punishable as a crime. It is an infraction. Apparently some of our Circuit judges have deemed settled law inapplicable if it fails to fit their litmus test of political correctness. Extrapolating to redefine terms of behavior in a violation of immigration law to the entire body of criminal law leaves a smorgasbord of opportunity for judicial mischief.

  2. I wonder if $10 diversions for failure to wear seat belts are considered moral turpitude in federal immigration law like they are under Indiana law? Anyone know?

  3. What a fine article, thank you! I can testify firsthand and by detailed legal reports (at end of this note) as to the dire consequences of rejecting this truth from the fine article above: "The inclusion and expansion of this right [to jury] in Indiana’s Constitution is a clear reflection of our state’s intention to emphasize the importance of every Hoosier’s right to make their case in front of a jury of their peers." Over $20? Every Hoosier? Well then how about when your very vocation is on the line? How about instead of a jury of peers, one faces a bevy of political appointees, mini-czars, who care less about due process of the law than the real czars did? Instead of trial by jury, trial by ideological ordeal run by Orwellian agents? Well that is built into more than a few administrative law committees of the Ind S.Ct., and it is now being weaponized, as is revealed in articles posted at this ezine, to root out post moderns heresies like refusal to stand and pledge allegiance to all things politically correct. My career was burned at the stake for not so saluting, but I think I was just one of the early logs. Due, at least in part, to the removal of the jury from bar admission and bar discipline cases, many more fires will soon be lit. Perhaps one awaits you, dear heretic? Oh, at that Ind. article 12 plank about a remedy at law for every damage done ... ah, well, the founders evidently meant only for those damages done not by the government itself, rabid statists that they were. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) My written reports available here: Denied petition for cert (this time around): http://tinyurl.com/zdmawmw Denied petition for cert (from the 2009 denial and five year banishment): http://tinyurl.com/zcypybh Related, not written by me: Amicus brief: http://tinyurl.com/hvh7qgp

  4. Justice has finally been served. So glad that Dr. Ley can finally sleep peacefully at night knowing the truth has finally come to the surface.

  5. While this right is guaranteed by our Constitution, it has in recent years been hampered by insurance companies, i.e.; the practice of the plaintiff's own insurance company intervening in an action and filing a lien against any proceeds paid to their insured. In essence, causing an additional financial hurdle for a plaintiff to overcome at trial in terms of overall award. In a very real sense an injured party in exercise of their right to trial by jury may be the only party in a cause that would end up with zero compensation.

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