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Editorial: Election Day 2010 provides cause for concern

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Indiana Lawyer Editorial

Years ago we were a little bemused when we first heard a judge on the Court of Appeals who happened to be facing a retention vote worry aloud that remaining on the bench may not be such a sure thing.

We were acquainted enough with this particular judge’s legal work to believe that this judge had nothing to fear, and yet it was plain that this jurist’s words were not mere lip-service and an attempt to sound “humble.” We learned of no campaign aimed at turning this judge out of office, and of course the judge was retained.

This particular judge worried aloud again during the most recent election cycle about remaining on the bench, again in spite of no organized effort to turn the judge out of office.

But one need only look outside Indiana’s borders to glimpse the sort of goings on that give reasonable people a reason to feel anxious about the state of judicial elections in general and merit selection in particular.

All five COA judges were retained by large margins, and all five trial judges in the Lake Superior Court and the one St. Joseph Superior Court judge were all kept on the bench.

Yet merit selection is no guarantee that sanity and reason will always prevail.

Look to the west, where three of Iowa’s justices were turned out of office after a retention vote on Election Day 2010. The three justices on Iowa’s Supreme Court were targeted by groups seeking to oust them after the high court there in 2009 unanimously ruled in the case that cleared the way for same-sex couples to marry under state law.

Or look directly north to Michigan, where in spite of running “non-partisan” judicial elections, Republicans are said to have gained control of the Michigan Supreme Court with a 4-3 majority.

Or look immediately to the west to Illinois, where the chief justice was forced to undertake a brisk campaign to keep his seat on the bench after becoming targeted by interests seeking to portray him as soft of crime, and other groups seeking caps on jury awards in malpractice cases.

We firmly believe in the right to free speech and the rights of citizens to express their displeasure with their judges. But to be frank, we find the prospect of witnessing the members of our appellate court filling the trunks of their cars with campaign materials to distribute as they dash across the state to lobby to keep their seats on the bench a bit nightmarish.

We have it on reasonable authority that an attempt to turn back judicial merit selection will not be put forth during the coming session of the Indiana General Assembly.

Given the election cycle we’ve just witnessed, we’re not putting much faith in that proclamation.•

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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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