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Governor: merit-selection 'is not broken'

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Gov. Mitch Daniels has vetoed legislation that would have ended merit-selection of St. Joseph Superior judges and instead made them run for office in non-partisan elections and create a new three-judge panel for the Indiana Court of Appeals.

On the deadline for action on House Enrolled Act 1491, the governor late this afternoon used his veto power for the third time this session and rejected it. The legislation would have called for non-partisan elections to choose the county's eight Superior judges for six-year terms, and created a sixth Court of Appeals panel would have taken effect in July 2011.

In his veto message, Daniels wrote: "The current method of selecting judges for the St. Joseph Superior Court has prevailed successfully for 35 years. It is a model to be emulated, not discarded. It is not broken; it requires no repair. It has produced outstanding jurists and contains sufficient measures of public accountability. I believe it neither necessary nor wise to re-politicize the courts of St. Joseph County."

On the appellate panel aspect, the governor wrote, "The addition of another panel to the Court of Appeals at $2 million per year is difficult to justify in today's challenging fiscal environment. Moreover, if I were to sign a bill linking these two proposals, it could contribute to public cynicism by creating the appearance that my acquiescence was purchased with more appointments. Whatever the merits of expanding the Court of Appeals may be, they should be considered alone."

Indiana State Bar Association president Bill Jonas, a South Bend attorney, was pleased with the veto decision.

"The veto reflects Gov. Daniels' longstanding commitment to an independent judiciary as well as his sense of fiscal responsibility," Jonas wrote in an email to Indiana Lawyer. "We thank the governor for doing the right thing for the citizens of Indiana."

Lawmakers have the ability to override the governor's veto, but it is not immediately clear whether that is being explored. Rep. Craig Fry, R-Mishawaka, who spearheaded the legislation, couldn't be reached for comment late Wednesday.
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