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 think the cops are doing a great job locking up criminals. The Murder rates in the inner cities are skyrocketing and you think that too any people are being incarcerated. Maybe we need to lock up more of them. We have the ACLU, BLM, NAACP, Civil right Division of the DOJ, the innocent Project etc. We have court system with an appeal process that can go on for years, with attorneys supplied by the government. I'm confused as to how that translates into the idea that the defendants are not being represented properly. Maybe the attorneys need to do more Pro-Bono work

  2. We do not have 10% of our population (which would mean about 32 million) incarcerated. It's closer to 2%.

  3. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  4. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  5. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.