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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. Such things are no more elections than those in the late, unlamented Soviet Union.

  2. It appears the police and prosecutors are allowed to change the rules halfway through the game to suit themselves. I am surprised that the congress has not yet eliminated the right to a trial in cases involving any type of forensic evidence. That would suit their foolish law and order police state views. I say we eliminate the statute of limitations for crimes committed by members of congress and other government employees. Of course they would never do that. They are all corrupt cowards!!!

  3. Poor Judge Brown probably thought that by slavishly serving the godz of the age her violations of 18th century concepts like due process and the rule of law would be overlooked. Mayhaps she was merely a Judge ahead of her time?

  4. in a lawyer discipline case Judge Brown, now removed, was presiding over a hearing about a lawyer accused of the supposedly heinous ethical violation of saying the words "Illegal immigrant." (IN re Barker) http://www.in.gov/judiciary/files/order-discipline-2013-55S00-1008-DI-429.pdf .... I wonder if when we compare the egregious violations of due process by Judge Brown, to her chiding of another lawyer for politically incorrectness, if there are any conclusions to be drawn about what kind of person, what kind of judge, what kind of apparatchik, is busy implementing the agenda of political correctness and making off-limits legit advocacy about an adverse party in a suit whose illegal alien status is relevant? I am just asking the question, the reader can make own conclsuion. Oh wait-- did I use the wrong adjective-- let me rephrase that, um undocumented alien?

  5. of course the bigger questions of whether or not the people want to pay for ANY bussing is off limits, due to the Supreme Court protecting the people from DEMOCRACY. Several decades hence from desegregation and bussing plans and we STILL need to be taking all this taxpayer money to combat mostly-imagined "discrimination" in the most obviously failed social program of the postwar period.

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