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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  1. The fee increase would be livable except for the 11% increase in spending at the Disciplinary Commission. The Commission should be focused on true public harm rather than going on witch hunts against lawyers who dare to criticize judges.

  2. Marijuana is safer than alcohol. AT the time the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act was enacted all major pharmaceutical companies in the US sold marijuana products. 11 Presidents of the US have smoked marijuana. Smoking it does not increase the likelihood that you will get lung cancer. There are numerous reports of canabis oil killing many kinds of incurable cancer. (See Rick Simpson's Oil on the internet or facebook).

  3. The US has 5% of the world's population and 25% of the world's prisoners. Far too many people are sentenced for far too many years in prison. Many of the federal prisoners are sentenced for marijuana violations. Marijuana is safer than alcohol.

  4. My daughter was married less than a week and her new hubbys picture was on tv for drugs and now I havent't seen my granddaughters since st patricks day. when my daughter left her marriage from her childrens Father she lived with me with my grand daughters and that was ok but I called her on the new hubby who is in jail and said didn't want this around my grandkids not unreasonable request and I get shut out for her mistake

  5. From the perspective of a practicing attorney, it sounds like this masters degree in law for non-attorneys will be useless to anyone who gets it. "However, Ted Waggoner, chair of the ISBA’s Legal Education Conclave, sees the potential for the degree program to actually help attorneys do their jobs better. He pointed to his practice at Peterson Waggoner & Perkins LLP in Rochester and how some clients ask their attorneys to do work, such as filling out insurance forms, that they could do themselves. Waggoner believes the individuals with the legal master’s degrees could do the routine, mundane business thus freeing the lawyers to do the substantive legal work." That is simply insulting to suggest that someone with a masters degree would work in a role that is subpar to even an administrative assistant. Even someone with just a certificate or associate's degree in paralegal studies would be overqualified to sit around helping clients fill out forms. Anyone who has a business background that they think would be enhanced by having a legal background will just go to law school, or get an MBA (which typically includes a business law class that gives a generic, broad overview of legal concepts). No business-savvy person would ever seriously consider this ridiculous master of law for non-lawyers degree. It reeks of desperation. The only people I see getting it are the ones who did not get into law school, who see the degree as something to add to their transcript in hopes of getting into a JD program down the road.

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