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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. I gave tempparry guardship to a friend of my granddaughter in 2012. I went to prison. I had custody. My daughter went to prison to. We are out. My daughter gave me custody but can get her back. She was not order to give me custody . but now we want granddaughter back from friend. She's 14 now. What rights do we have

  2. This sure is not what most who value good governance consider the Rule of Law to entail: "In a letter dated March 2, which Brizzi forwarded to IBJ, the commission dismissed the grievance “on grounds that there is not reasonable cause to believe that you are guilty of misconduct.”" Yet two month later reasonable cause does exist? (Or is the commission forging ahead, the need for reasonable belief be damned? -- A seeming violation of the Rules of Profession Ethics on the part of the commission) Could the rule of law theory cause one to believe that an explanation is in order? Could it be that Hoosier attorneys live under Imperial Law (which is also a t-word that rhymes with infamy) in which the Platonic guardians can do no wrong and never owe the plebeian class any explanation for their powerful actions. (Might makes it right?) Could this be a case of politics directing the commission, as celebrated IU Mauer Professor (the late) Patrick Baude warned was happening 20 years ago in his controversial (whisteblowing) ethics lecture on a quite similar topic: http://www.repository.law.indiana.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1498&context=ilj

  3. I have a case presently pending cert review before the SCOTUS that reveals just how Indiana regulates the bar. I have been denied licensure for life for holding the wrong views and questioning the grand inquisitors as to their duties as to state and federal constitutional due process. True story: https://www.scribd.com/doc/299040839/2016Petitionforcert-to-SCOTUS Shorter, Amici brief serving to frame issue as misuse of govt licensure: https://www.scribd.com/doc/312841269/Thomas-More-Society-Amicus-Brown-v-Ind-Bd-of-Law-Examiners

  4. Here's an idea...how about we MORE heavily regulate the law schools to reduce the surplus of graduates, driving starting salaries up for those new grads, so that we can all pay our insane amount of student loans off in a reasonable amount of time and then be able to afford to do pro bono & low-fee work? I've got friends in other industries, radiology for example, and their schools accept a very limited number of students so there will never be a glut of new grads and everyone's pay stays high. For example, my radiologist friend's school accepted just six new students per year.

  5. I totally agree with John Smith.

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