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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. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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