Should all judges be lawyers?

October 27, 2008
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From IL reporter Michael Hoskins:

If you’re responsible for applying the law, no matter if the case is a traffic infraction or a civil or criminal proceeding, is a law license required? The answer is no, but it’s a topic being debated as it applies to city and town court judges.

The Commission on Courts on Friday talked about whether all of Indiana’s city and town court judges should have to be attorneys in good standing. Only 10 have that requirement now, while 56 city or town courts don’t have the attorney requirement. There are 35 layman judges at that level without a law degree. Some think it should apply to everyone on the bench.

Chief Justice Randall Shepard is in favor of the idea, noting that these judges are on the front lines and litigants must have the best possible legal representation from everyone at that level. Often, higher courts of record and the appellate level must handle the consequences of what comes from those most-local courtrooms and it makes sense for attorneys to be the ones issuing those decisions, he said. But the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns and several local judges are opposed to the idea. IACT attorney Jodie Woods said this falls under the home rule umbrella and it isn’t right to force an area with few attorneys to have to pick one of those to be a judge.

Three attended the commission meeting, including Jeffersonville City Judge Kenneth Pierce who offered a more neutral viewpoint. While he truly thinks these judges should be attorneys (he is licensed), he knows sitting non-attorney judges with more experience and expertise than some attorneys.

Some compromises were laid out, such as removing a residency requirement that would allow out-of-city or town court judges to serve a nearby jurisdiction; and applying the law-degree requirement only for the future so all sitting judges would remain on the bench until they chose not to run. Commission members weren’t all convinced and a motion to recommend this to lawmakers failed, but the idea will likely come up again. The chief justice noted that this issue is not an emergency, but a useful idea that could take years to implement statewide.
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  2. Hail to our Constitutional Law Expert in the Executive Office! “What you’re not paying attention to is the fact that I just took an action to change the law,” Obama said.

  3. What is this, the Ind Supreme Court thinking that there is a separation of powers and limited enumerated powers as delegated by a dusty old document? Such eighteen century thinking, so rare and unwanted by the elites in this modern age. Dictate to us, dictate over us, the massess are chanting! George Soros agrees. Time to change with times Ind Supreme Court, says all President Snows. Rule by executive decree is the new black.

  4. I made the same argument before a commission of the Indiana Supreme Court and then to the fedeal district and federal appellate courts. Fell flat. So very glad to read that some judges still beleive that evidentiary foundations matter.

  5. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

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