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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. Bill Satterlee is, indeed, a true jazz aficionado. Part of my legal career was spent as an associate attorney with Hoeppner, Wagner & Evans in Valparaiso. Bill was instrumental (no pun intended) in introducing me to jazz music, thereby fostering my love for this genre. We would, occasionally, travel to Chicago on weekends and sit in on some outstanding jazz sessions at Andy's on Hubbard Street. Had it not been for Bill's love of jazz music, I never would have had the good fortune of hearing it played live at Andy's. And, most likely, I might never have begun listening to it as much as I do. Thanks, Bill.

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  5. Additional Points: -Civility in the profession: Treating others with respect will not only move others to respect you, it will show a shared respect for the legal system we are all sworn to protect. When attorneys engage in unnecessary personal attacks, they lose the respect and favor of judges, jurors, the person being attacked, and others witnessing or reading the communication. It's not always easy to put anger aside, but if you don't, you will lose respect, credibility, cases, clients & jobs or job opportunities. -Read Rule 22 of the Admission & Discipline Rules. Capture that spirit and apply those principles in your daily work. -Strive to represent clients in a manner that communicates the importance you place on the legal matter you're privileged to handle for them. -There are good lawyers of all ages, but no one is perfect. Older lawyers can learn valuable skills from younger lawyers who tend to be more adept with new technologies that can improve work quality and speed. Older lawyers have already tackled more legal issues and worked through more of the problems encountered when representing clients on various types of legal matters. If there's mutual respect and a willingness to learn from each other, it will help make both attorneys better lawyers. -Erosion of the public trust in lawyers wears down public confidence in the rule of law. Always keep your duty to the profession in mind. -You can learn so much by asking questions & actively listening to instructions and advice from more experienced attorneys, regardless of how many years or decades you've each practiced law. Don't miss out on that chance.

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