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Hebenstreit: Judicial Elections Just Around the Corner

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IBA-hebenstreitI know, the elections are over and everyone wants to get back to normal life again … but the process is beginning again.

One of the bedrocks of a solid democracy is the ability of citizens to air their differences before a fair and impartial judiciary. In Marion County, we have been blessed with a solid group of judges which we certainly hope will continue. The judges in Marion County are elected in the General Elections to serve a term of 6 years. There are 2 groups of judges who are elected in differing years. The next group will be up for election next November when we all go to the polls to vote for President and Governor, but the real decisions will be made long before that. In fact, the judicial candidates have been making the political rounds for some time already.

Under the current system, there will likely be 10 judicial candidates from each major political party on the November ballot. Typically, all 20 will be elected as it is unusual to see third party candidates run, let alone win. Thus, the true contest occurs at the slating conventions and in the Primary election. Each party holds a slating convention in February and recommends the 10 candidates that party hopes will be on the November ballot. Other candidates may participate in the Primary election in May 2012, and the 10 who have the highest number of votes of each party will be on the ballot for the General election.

The debate continues about whether it is better to have the general electorate choose judges or have some other process. In smaller counties, it is not uncommon for the citizens to actually know the judicial candidates and be able to express their personal opinion at the polls. That is dramatically different in Marion County. By and large, most voters have no idea about the qualifications of the judicial candidates and many lawyers who are not litigators probably do not know either. That is the reason for JEPAC.

Who better to determine the qualifications of the judiciary than the attorneys who practice in front of those judges on a daily basis? The stated purpose for JEPAC is “to conduct and publicize non-partisan evaluations of Marion County judicial candidates to promote the fair and effective selection of qualified judicial candidates in Marion County.” Over the years, the process has undergone many changes.

In the past, the members of JEPAC have individually interviewed the candidates and made recommendations. In the most recent judicial elections, with the assistance of a Wabash College professor, the Board of JEPAC created a written survey. That survey is then submitted to all attorneys who have entered an appearance in the Marion County Clerk’s office within the last three years for response. It reaches in excess of 8,000 attorneys, and requests that the responding attorneys only evaluate the candidates with whom they have had personal contact or knowledge. The survey is quite comprehensive and covers a number of criteria for evaluating the competence, demeanor and professionalism of the candidates. After tabulation, the results are published to assist the general public make an informed decision when at the polls.

This year, the work of JEPAC will be accelerated. Since the selection of candidates takes place at the respective party’s slating conventions (usually held in February), the results will be ready prior to those conventions. According to the Resolution creating JEPAC, members of the PAC are selected by the President of the IndyBar. Since a good bit of the work of the PAC will be accomplished during Scott Chinn’s term of office, he and I each had input in the selection of the members. Past President of the IndyBar, Joe Russell, and Past President of the IBF, Lante Earnest, have agreed to co-lead the PAC as the Chair and Treasurer respectively. There is an even presence of Republican, Democrat and Independent representation on the Board. Under their leadership, the 2011-2012 evaluations will be determined and published.

As with any human endeavor, there is room for conflict and disagreement. Nevertheless, JEPAC has proven to be an effective method of evaluating the judicial candidates who will be elected by the citizens of Marion County. If you receive one of the evaluations, please take the time to respond in a fair and thoughtful manner. Our clients and the citizens of Marion County deserve to continue to have a competent and professional judiciary to resolve their disputes.•

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  1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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