Public funds for judicial campaigns

March 22, 2010
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Judicial elections and merit selection of judges is a hot topic in Indiana. Just take a look at bills or resolutions introduced in the General Assembly recently. You’ll see attempts to forego merit selection in favor of elections: 2009’s HEA 1491, which looked to make St. Joseph Superior judges run for election and made a brief comeback this year; and 2009’s House Joint Resolution 9 that aimed to have our justices elected. Both failed to become law.

But what if our justices and appellate judges were elected? Would you be willing to fork over your money – whether through taxes or other fees – to pay for a general election fund? West Virginia thinks it’s a good idea and has recently passed legislation that creates a public campaign financing pilot program. You may recall Caperton, et al. v. A.T. Massey Coal, 129 S.Ct. 2252 (2009), came from West Virginia.

The legislation’s aim is to curb the perception that contributors and interested third-parties hold too much influence over the judicial process. Candidates in a primary election could receive $50,000 to $200,000 from the fund; they can get anywhere from $35,000 to $350,000 in a general election. The money was to come from fees from various court filings and new lawyer registration, but legislators amended it to strip that language so now money will have to come from a state surplus fund or private funds. You can read the legislation online. It’s set to become effective June 11.

West Virginia joins North Carolina, New Mexico, and Wisconsin as states that publicly fund judicial races. West Virginia only has one state appellate court.

Indiana is a hodgepodge of judicial selection processes – most counties elect their judges through partisan election, although a handful uses merit-selection or non-partisan elections. All of our appellate judges are chosen by merit selection.

The idea behind the public funds makes sense in attempting to eliminate perceived bias from judges who ran for the bench politically, but it also raises plenty of questions. Should states be funding judicial elections in this economy? What if a state is set up like ours – appellate judges are appointed but trial judges run for election – should lower court candidates also receive funds? What if there isn’t enough money in the public fund for candidates? They will have to raise their own money again, and that defeats the purpose of the bill.

If Indiana ever went the judicial election route for our appellate judges and justices, would you like to see the state create a campaign finance fund?

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  1. Great observation Smith. By my lights, speaking personally, they already have. They counted my religious perspective in a pro-life context as a symptom of mental illness and then violated all semblance of due process to banish me for life from the Indiana bar. The headline reveals the truth of the Hoosier elite's animus. Details here: Denied 2016 petition for cert (this time around): (“2016Pet”) Amicus brief 2016: (“2016Amici”) As many may recall, I was banned for five years for failing to "repent" of my religious views on life and the law when a bar examiner demanded it of me, resulting in a time out to reconsider my "clinging." The time out did not work, so now I am banned for life. Here is the five year time out order: Denied 2010 petition for cert (from the 2009 denial and five year banishment): (“2010Pet”) Read this quickly if you are going to read it, the elites will likely demand it be pulled down or pile comments on to bury it. (As they have buried me.)

  2. if the proabortion zealots and intolerant secularist anti-religious bigots keep on shutting down every hint of religious observance in american society, or attacking every ounce of respect that the state may have left for it, they may just break off their teeth.

  3. "drug dealers and traffickers need to be locked up". "we cannot afford just to continue to build prisons". "drug abuse is strangling many families and communities". "establishing more treatment and prevention programs will also be priorities". Seems to be what politicians have been saying for at least three decades now. If these are the most original thoughts these two have on the issues of drug trafficking and drug abuse, then we're no closer to solving the problem than we were back in the 90s when crack cocaine was the epidemic. We really need to begin demanding more original thought from those we elect to office. We also need to begin to accept that each of us is part of the solution to a problem that government cannot solve.

  4. What is with the bias exclusion of the only candidate that made sense, Rex Bell? The Democrat and Republican Party have created this problem, why on earth would anyone believe they are able to fix it without pushing government into matters it doesn't belong?

  5. This is what happens when daddy hands over a business to his moron son and thinks that everything will be ok. this bankruptcy is nothing more than Gary pulling the strings to never pay the creditors that he and his son have ripped off. they are scum and they know it.