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. The $320,000 is the amount the school spent in litigating two lawsuits: One to release the report involving John Trimble (as noted in the story above) and one defending the discrimination lawsuit. The story above does not mention the amount spent to defend the discrimination suit, that's why the numbers don't match. Thanks for reading.

  2. $160k? Yesterday the figure was $320k. Which is it Indiana Lawyer. And even more interesting, which well connected law firm got the (I am guessing) $320k, six time was the fired chancellor received. LOL. (From yesterday's story, which I guess we were expected to forget overnight ... "According to records obtained by the Journal & Courier, Purdue spent $161,812, beginning in July 2012, in a state open records lawsuit and $168,312, beginning in April 2013, for defense in a federal lawsuit. Much of those fees were spent battling court orders to release an independent investigation by attorney John Trimble that found Purdue could have handled the forced retirement better")

  3. The numbers are harsh; 66 - 24 in the House, 40 - 10 in the Senate. And it is an idea pushed by the Democrats. Dead end? Ummm not necessarily. Just need to go big rather than go home. Nuclear option. Give it to the federal courts, the federal courts will ram this down our throats. Like that other invented right of the modern age, feticide. Rights too precious to be held up by 2000 years of civilization hang in the balance. Onward!

  4. I'm currently seeing someone who has a charge of child pornography possession, he didn't know he had it because it was attached to a music video file he downloaded when he was 19/20 yrs old and fought it for years until he couldn't handle it and plead guilty of possession. He's been convicted in Illinois and now lives in Indiana. Wouldn't it be better to give them a chance to prove to the community and their families that they pose no threat? He's so young and now because he was being a kid and downloaded music at a younger age, he has to pay for it the rest of his life? It's unfair, he can't live a normal life, and has to live in fear of what people can say and do to him because of something that happened 10 years ago? No one deserves that, and no one deserves to be labeled for one mistake, he got labeled even though there was no intent to obtain and use the said content. It makes me so sad to see someone I love go through this and it makes me holds me back a lot because I don't know how people around me will accept him...second chances should be given to those under the age of 21 at least so they can be given a chance to live a normal life as a productive member of society.

  5. It's just an ill considered remark. The Sup Ct is inherently political, as it is a core part of government, and Marbury V Madison guaranteed that it would become ever more so Supremely thus. So her remark is meaningless and she just should have not made it.... what she could have said is that Congress is a bunch of lazys and cowards who wont do their jobs so the hard work of making laws clear, oftentimes stops with the Sups sorting things out that could have been resolved by more competent legislation. That would have been a more worthwhile remark and maybe would have had some relevance to what voters do, since voters cant affect who gets appointed to the supremely un-democratic art III courts.

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