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Federal magistrate faces Senate committee

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A federal magistrate nominated to become a Southern District of Indiana judge went before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday afternoon.

Magistrate William Lawrence from Indianapolis faced committee members in Washington, D.C., to discuss why he should be promoted within the federal court's ranks. President George W. Bush selected him in February to succeed Judge John D. Tinder, whom the Senate confirmed to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals last year.

Magistrate Lawrence was appointed in November 2002 but had worked at the state court level for many years before that. He had served as Marion Circuit judge since 1996 - he's credited for reducing the number of pending cases by 20 percent in less than three years. Before that, he had worked as a part-time master commissioner for more than 13 years and had also been a part-time public defender in the county for nine years.

During the hour-long confirmation hearing, Magistrate Lawrence received two questions - fewer than his two fellow nominees, who are up for judgeships with the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Virginia and the U.S. District Court of Arizona. The committee's acting chair, Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Maryland, asked all three to talk about their commitment and philosophy on pro bono legal services.

Magistrate Lawrence mentioned his background as a public defender in Marion County, as well as his work in the late 1970s on a bar association task force that organized a pro bono panel that's been in effect in Indianapolis for several years now.

The magistrate also talked about his early years as a Marion Circuit judge and the creation of a consolidated paternity court, which he described as one of the first of its kind in the nation. The court provided a forum for establishing paternity and enabled those on welfare to collect support.

"In the beginning, we believed maybe we could collect $30 million," he said. "I'm happy to report that in 2004, that court was directly responsible for putting $80 million into pockets of single, head-of-household, custodial parents of children born out of wedlock, and I'm proud of that."

Later, Cardin pointed out a comment Magistrate Lawrence had made to a newspaper in 2002 when switching from the state to federal bench. That comment indicated how he was looking forward to the change because the administration of state court matters can often get caught up in partisan politics. The senator wanted Magistrate Lawrence to expand on that, in light of how he would be asked as a federal judge to weigh in on executive actions that could be interpreted to have partisan connections, such as executive power.

"I don't think there is politics..." Magistrate Lawrence responded. "When you're a judge ... you leave your agenda at the front door. I think part of the responsibilities of a judge is to provide a canvas for attorneys to try their case. A judge's ideology, preferences, dislikes play no part in the decision-making process a judge must render."

Cardin asked if he didn't have that comfort at the state level. Magistrate Lawrence explained how Marion County judges are elected on a strictly partisan basis that means running in primaries, attending local political functions, and raising money for the judicial races.

"Clearly, the very people we were asking for money are the very people that are going to be appearing in front of us after the election. I thought that was very distasteful, and I was very vocal about my opposition to that," he said.

With those two questions, the only other time Magistrate Lawrence spoke was when introducing himself and his family following an opening from both of Indiana's senators, Democrat Evan Bayh and Republican Richard Lugar, who appeared at his confirmation hearing and described him as being an excellent candidate for the job.

"I'm just happy to talk about something other than the Indiana primary coming up next Tuesday," Bayh said, getting a laugh from the committee. "The reason for that is that we in Indiana care about, frankly, a lot more important things than politics. One of them is ensuring that justice is dispensed here in our state and across our country."

If approved by the Senate, Magistrate Lawrence would be the Southern District's first magistrate judge to be elevated to the constitutionally established Article III judge status.

No timeline exists for when the committee must vote, but a confirmation vote could come within the next month as it did during Judge Tinder's confirmation process last year. If the committee approves his confirmation, the full Senate would then have to take a confirmation vote before it becomes official.
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  1. "Am I bugging you? I don't mean to bug ya." If what I wrote below is too much social philosophy for Indiana attorneys, just take ten this vacay to watch The Lego Movie with kiddies and sing along where appropriate: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=etzMjoH0rJw

  2. I've got some free speech to share here about who is at work via the cat's paw of the ACLU stamping out Christian observances.... 2 Thessalonians chap 2: "And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe. For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own people the same things those churches suffered from the Jews who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to everyone in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last."

  3. Did someone not tell people who have access to the Chevy Volts that it has a gas engine and will run just like a normal car? The batteries give the Volt approximately a 40 mile range, but after that the gas engine will propel the vehicle either directly through the transmission like any other car, or gas engine recharges the batteries depending on the conditions.

  4. Catholic, Lutheran, even the Baptists nuzzling the wolf! http://www.judicialwatch.org/press-room/press-releases/judicial-watch-documents-reveal-obama-hhs-paid-baptist-children-family-services-182129786-four-months-housing-illegal-alien-children/ YET where is the Progressivist outcry? Silent. I wonder why?

  5. Thank you, Honorable Ladies, and thank you, TIL, for this interesting interview. The most interesting question was the last one, which drew the least response. Could it be that NFP stamps are a threat to the very foundation of our common law American legal tradition, a throwback to the continental system that facilitated differing standards of justice? A throwback to Star Chamber’s protection of the landed gentry? If TIL ever again interviews this same panel, I would recommend inviting one known for voicing socio-legal dissent for the masses, maybe Welch, maybe Ogden, maybe our own John Smith? As demographics shift and our social cohesion precipitously drops, a consistent judicial core will become more and more important so that Justice and Equal Protection and Due Process are yet guiding stars. If those stars fall from our collective social horizon (and can they be seen even now through the haze of NFP opinions?) then what glue other than more NFP decisions and TRO’s and executive orders -- all backed by more and more lethally armed praetorians – will prop up our government institutions? And if and when we do arrive at such an end … will any then dare call that tyranny? Or will the cost of such dissent be too high to justify?

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