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House committee split, justice election bill stuck

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Legislation aimed at changing how the Indiana Supreme Court justices are chosen hasn't gotten enough support to make it out of committee for now, getting a split vote from lawmakers that means it won't be going to the full House for consideration.

The Government and Regulatory Reform Committee added to its agenda this morning House Joint Resolution 9, which would amend the state's Constitution to require that justices be elected instead of being chosen based on merit and later retained by voters. Rep. Craig Fry, D-Mishawka, proposed the resolution in January to put the makeup of the high court in the public's hands and provide more accountability.

Currently, the seven-member Indiana Judicial Nominating Commission chooses state appellate judges through a merit-selection process and submits finalists' names to the governor, who makes the final decision. Voters can then cast ballots periodically after that to retain or boot that judge. The system's been in place since 1971, and two counties - St. Joseph and Lake - followed suit for Superior judges in 1973.

As detailed in HJR9, the General Assembly would divide Indiana into three districts, with one justice being elected by voters in each of those jurisdictions and two justices being chosen by all voters statewide.

Fry's measure was originally referred to the Committee on Courts and Criminal Code, but was reassigned to the reform committee on Thursday and added to the agenda this week.

But by a 5-5 vote, the legislative committee has voted not to send the measure to the full House at this point. Two members were absent and didn't vote, while at least two voting that it move on pointed out they weren't opposed to merit selection and might vote against HJR9 on the floor. The deadline for committee action is Thursday.

Three people testified before the committee against the measure - Indiana State Bar Association legislative counsel Paje Felts, Terre Haute attorney Stephen Williams who sits on the Judicial Nominating Commission, and Indianapolis attorney Tom Schultz who is president of the Defense Trial Counsel of Indiana.

Felts told lawmakers that the ISBA helped change the system decades ago, and that Indiana is looked to as a national model of how to put justices on the bench.

Williams focused on the nominating commission end, while Schultz told lawmakers that changing the selection system could have a negative impact on the economy because businesses might not want to locate to a state where multi-million dollar judicial elections are being held.

Committee chair Rep. John Bartlett, D-Indianapolis, voted in support of sending this resolution to the full House for consideration because it's controversial and should be discussed, whether the merit selection system works or not.

"This is a time of transparency and accountability, and it's extremely important that taxpayers.... be able to have a say," he said.

Rep. Phil Hinkle, R-Indianapolis, recalled visiting another state back in the 1970s and seeing television coverage of 18 prosecutor candidates being interviewed - full of negative ads and indications of large amounts of money being raised.

"We start having mudslinging and it's going to hurt the quality of our candidates," he said. "I don't see why we'd go there."

Before voting against the resolution, another lawmaker said, "I don't want a Democrat judge or a Republican judge; I just want a judge."

Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon, D-Munster, and Rep. John Barnes, D-Indianapolis, both indicated that while they wanted more discussion by lawmakers, they'd likely vote against the measure if it reached the full House.

Since it's a constitutional amendment, HJR9 would have to be voted on in two consecutive General Assembly sessions and then ratified a majority of state voters before it would become law.

While Fry's resolution hasn't gotten enough committee support, another of his proposals - House Bill 1491 that calls for electing St. Joseph Superior judges - has momentum, making it out of committee unanimously and the House voting 88-3 in favor of it on Feb. 12. The bill has gone on to the Senate for consideration, with Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, signing on as a sponsor.

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  1. Just an aside, but regardless of the outcome, I 'm proud of Judge William Hughes. He was the original magistrate on the Home place issue. He ruled for Home Place, and was primaried by Brainard for it. Their tool Poindexter failed to unseat Hughes, who won support for his honesty and courage throughout the county, and he was reelected Judge of Hamilton County's Superior Court. You can still stand for something and survive. Thanks, Judge Hughes!

  2. CCHP's real accomplishment is the 2015 law signed by Gov Pence that basically outlaws any annexation that is forced where a 65% majority of landowners in the affected area disagree. Regardless of whether HP wins or loses, the citizens of Indiana will not have another fiasco like this. The law Gov Pence signed is a direct result of this malgovernance.

  3. I gave tempparry guardship to a friend of my granddaughter in 2012. I went to prison. I had custody. My daughter went to prison to. We are out. My daughter gave me custody but can get her back. She was not order to give me custody . but now we want granddaughter back from friend. She's 14 now. What rights do we have

  4. This sure is not what most who value good governance consider the Rule of Law to entail: "In a letter dated March 2, which Brizzi forwarded to IBJ, the commission dismissed the grievance “on grounds that there is not reasonable cause to believe that you are guilty of misconduct.”" Yet two month later reasonable cause does exist? (Or is the commission forging ahead, the need for reasonable belief be damned? -- A seeming violation of the Rules of Profession Ethics on the part of the commission) Could the rule of law theory cause one to believe that an explanation is in order? Could it be that Hoosier attorneys live under Imperial Law (which is also a t-word that rhymes with infamy) in which the Platonic guardians can do no wrong and never owe the plebeian class any explanation for their powerful actions. (Might makes it right?) Could this be a case of politics directing the commission, as celebrated IU Mauer Professor (the late) Patrick Baude warned was happening 20 years ago in his controversial (whisteblowing) ethics lecture on a quite similar topic: http://www.repository.law.indiana.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1498&context=ilj

  5. I have a case presently pending cert review before the SCOTUS that reveals just how Indiana regulates the bar. I have been denied licensure for life for holding the wrong views and questioning the grand inquisitors as to their duties as to state and federal constitutional due process. True story: https://www.scribd.com/doc/299040839/2016Petitionforcert-to-SCOTUS Shorter, Amici brief serving to frame issue as misuse of govt licensure: https://www.scribd.com/doc/312841269/Thomas-More-Society-Amicus-Brown-v-Ind-Bd-of-Law-Examiners

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