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Federal judge OKs state's judicial canons

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A federal judge says the Indiana Supreme Court can regulate judicial speech through its cannons, and has ruled the existing rules do not violate a judge or judicial candidate's constitutional free speech or association rights.

In a 71-page order issued late Tuesday in Torrey Bauer, et al. v. Randall T. Shepard, et al., No. 3:08-CV-196, U.S. District Judge Theresa Springmann in Fort Wayne dismissed a case brought by Indiana Right to Life, which challenged the state's judicial canons on constitutional grounds.

The judicial-speech case stems from a survey the non-profit group sent out last year to judicial candidates before the election, asking them to state views about policies and court decisions related to abortion, euthanasia, and other issues. Most declined to reply to the survey, citing an advisory opinion from the Judicial Qualifications Commission that warned judicial candidates against making "broad statements on disputed social and legal issues."

But deciding the canons go too far and infringe on candidates' First and 14th amendment rights, the committee sued in April 2008 on behalf of Torrey Bauer, an attorney who was a candidate for Kosciusko Superior Court, and Marion Superior Judge David Certo, who has since been elected but at the time was a judicial candidate running for the first time after being appointed by the governor in 2007 to fill a vacancy.

Chief Justice Shepard is named as the lead defendant, as he chairs the Indiana Judicial Qualifications Commission. Parties filed amended complaints and answers earlier this year, focusing the arguments to the revised 2009 judicial code of conduct.

In the nine counts brought against the state judicial commission, the federal judge found the plaintiffs have standing to bring the case but dismissed two counts and entered judgments against the plaintiffs on the other seven. She vacated a 14-month-old preliminary injunction that had stopped the commission from enforcing the canons.

"In this case, the free speech and association rights of judges and judicial candidates, which are protected by the First Amendment, bump into the interests of the people of Indiana in having a judiciary that is independent, fair, impartial, and competent, that is comprised of individuals of integrity and that preserves the principles of justice and the rule of law," Judge Springmann wrote. "As a consequence, the Indiana Supreme Court must carefully balance the various values and interests at stake and narrowly tailor the rules governing the conduct of judges and judicial candidates to serve these interests."

Pointing out that Indiana's high court has repeatedly adjusted the applicable rules and advice throughout the years based on U.S. Supreme Court rulings and other precedent, Judge Springmann found the current code is narrowly tailored to serve the compelling interests in protecting the judiciary's image.

She also found little to support the plaintiffs' claim challenging the disqualification and recusal provisions of the state canons, citing the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling of Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Co., 129 S. Ct. 2252 (2009), to guide her decision and saying that the plaintiffs were "running up hill" in parts of their challenge.

But most significantly, Judge Springmann wrote the canons don't prevent judicial candidates from answering questionnaires like this - that they are permitted to state their views about disputed social and legal issues, as long as they abide by the canons and specific rules governing that.

"The questionnaire could (be) improved with clear assurances that judicial candidate respondents will keep an open mind and carry out their adjudicative duties faithfully and impartially if elected," she observed.

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  1. This law is troubling in two respects: First, why wasn't the law reviewed "with the intention of getting all the facts surrounding the legislation and its actual impact on the marketplace" BEFORE it was passed and signed? Seems a bit backwards to me (even acknowledging that this is the Indiana state legislature we're talking about. Second, what is it with the laws in this state that seem to create artificial monopolies in various industries? Besides this one, the other law that comes to mind is the legislation that governed the granting of licenses to firms that wanted to set up craft distilleries. The licensing was limited to only those entities that were already in the craft beer brewing business. Republicans in this state talk a big game when it comes to being "business friendly". They're friendly alright . . . to certain businesses.

  2. Gretchen, Asia, Roberto, Tonia, Shannon, Cheri, Nicholas, Sondra, Carey, Laura ... my heart breaks for you, reaching out in a forum in which you are ignored by a professional suffering through both compassion fatigue and the love of filthy lucre. Most if not all of you seek a warm blooded Hoosier attorney unafraid to take on the government and plead that government officials have acted unconstitutionally to try to save a family and/or rescue children in need and/or press individual rights against the Leviathan state. I know an attorney from Kansas who has taken such cases across the country, arguing before half of the federal courts of appeal and presenting cases to the US S.Ct. numerous times seeking cert. Unfortunately, due to his zeal for the constitutional rights of peasants and willingness to confront powerful government bureaucrats seemingly violating the same ... he was denied character and fitness certification to join the Indiana bar, even after he was cleared to sit for, and passed, both the bar exam and ethics exam. And was even admitted to the Indiana federal bar! NOW KNOW THIS .... you will face headwinds and difficulties in locating a zealously motivated Hoosier attorney to face off against powerful government agents who violate the constitution, for those who do so tend to end up as marginalized as Paul Odgen, who was driven from the profession. So beware, many are mere expensive lapdogs, the kind of breed who will gladly take a large retainer, but then fail to press against the status quo and powers that be when told to heel to. It is a common belief among some in Indiana that those attorneys who truly fight the power and rigorously confront corruption often end up, actually or metaphorically, in real life or at least as to their careers, as dead as the late, great Gary Welch. All of that said, I wish you the very best in finding a Hoosier attorney with a fighting spirit to press your rights as far as you can, for you do have rights against government actors, no matter what said actors may tell you otherwise. Attorneys outside the elitist camp are often better fighters that those owing the powers that be for their salaries, corner offices and end of year bonuses. So do not be afraid to retain a green horn or unconnected lawyer, many of them are fine men and woman who are yet untainted by the "unique" Hoosier system.

  3. I am not the John below. He is a journalist and talk show host who knows me through my years working in Kansas government. I did no ask John to post the note below ...

  4. "...not those committed in the heat of an argument." If I ever see a man physically abusing a woman or a child and I'm close enough to intercede I will not ask him why he is abusing her/him. I will give him a split second to cease his attack and put his hands in the air while I call the police. If he continues, I will still call the police but to report, "Man down with a gunshot wound,"instead.

  5. And so the therapeutic state is weaonized. How soon until those with ideologies opposing the elite are disarmed in the name of mental health? If it can start anywhere it can start in the hoosiers' slavishly politically correct capital city.

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