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House passes St. Joseph judicial election bill

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In a historically notable vote, the Indiana House of Representatives passed a bill that would elect St. Joseph Superior judges rather than stick with a merit-selection and retention system in place for 35 years.

The 88-3 vote came about 4 p.m. Thursday on House Bill 1491, authored by Rep. Craig Fry, D-Mishawaka. Voting against the bill were attorney Reps. Ed Delaney, D-Indianapolis, Ralph Foley, R-Martinsville, and Rep. Suzanne Crouch, R-Evansville.

St. Joseph is one of two counties where Superior Court judges are chosen by a local nominating commission on their judicial merits, appointed by the governor, and then face voter retention in elections. The remaining 90 Hoosier counties use the election method, with two - Allen and Vanderburgh - using non-partisan elections; Marion County has a slating process, as well.

Fry's proposal sets up non-partisan elections every six years. Similar legislation has been pitched for years, but this is the first time it's made it out of committee and subsequently to the full House and passed. Fry noted that it's the first time in recent memory that any of the county's members have together supported the issue.

"Perhaps by making them stand for general election, our judges will realize that they need to be accountable and that their courts are not private kingdoms," Fry said.

Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-Lakeville, amended the bill earlier in the week to restrict and cap campaign contributions of any judicial candidate. Her amendment prohibits a Superior judge candidate from receiving any money from political party or political action committee, and bans them from getting more than $500 from one person, $1,000 from any two or more people from a single law firm, or more than $10,000 in total contributions.

Aside from those opposing votes, Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary - who in the past has proposed similar legislation focusing on Lake County's system - was the only person who stepped up to the podium to question Fry. He asked that since Fry was the person who "led the charge" for the St. Joe bill, if he'd commit to doing the same next year for Lake County. Fry said he would; Brown voted for the legislation.

The bill now moves to the Senate, which is expected to offer less support for the legislation. No senators have signed on as sponsors. Senate President Pro Tempore David Long, R-Fort Wayne, who is also an attorney, declined to comment on the legislation, but Sen. Richard Bray, R-Martinsville, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee and also the interim summer panel that was against the idea, said he is opposed to the bill.

"Why do we even have a courts' commission if we do things like this?" the veteran senator asked, referring to the House ignoring the recommendation made last fall against changing the system.

"I don't know yet how I feel about statewide merit selection for trial courts, but in a county where it's been working for so long we aren't going to turn around and go back down that path," he said. "I'm not saying I like every judge in Indiana, but it sets a terrible precedent to change an entire system if you don't like a particular judge's decision based on the law. I find that a bit offensive."

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  1. 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.

  2. 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

  3. 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

  4. 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

  5. Here's an idea...how about we MORE heavily regulate the law schools to reduce the surplus of graduates, driving starting salaries up for those new grads, so that we can all pay our insane amount of student loans off in a reasonable amount of time and then be able to afford to do pro bono & low-fee work? I've got friends in other industries, radiology for example, and their schools accept a very limited number of students so there will never be a glut of new grads and everyone's pay stays high. For example, my radiologist friend's school accepted just six new students per year.

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