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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. Well, maybe it's because they are unelected, and, they have a tendency to strike down laws by elected officials from all over the country. When you have been taught that "Democracy" is something almost sacred, then, you will have a tendency to frown on such imperious conduct. Lawyers get acculturated in law school into thinking that this is the very essence of high minded government, but to people who are more heavily than King George ever did, they may not like it. Thanks for the information.

  2. I pd for a bankruptcy years ago with Mr Stiles and just this week received a garnishment from my pay! He never filed it even though he told me he would! Don't let this guy practice law ever again!!!

  3. Excellent initiative on the part of the AG. Thankfully someone takes action against predators taking advantage of people who have already been through the wringer. Well done!

  4. Conour will never turn these funds over to his defrauded clients. He tearfully told the court, and his daughters dutifully pledged in interviews, that his first priority is to repay every dime of the money he stole from his clients. Judge Young bought it, much to the chagrin of Conour’s victims. Why would Conour need the $2,262 anyway? Taxpayers are now supporting him, paying for his housing, utilities, food, healthcare, and clothing. If Conour puts the money anywhere but in the restitution fund, he’s proved, once again, what a con artist he continues to be and that he has never had any intention of repaying his clients. Judge Young will be proven wrong... again; Conour has no remorse and the Judge is one of the many conned.

  5. Pass Legislation to require guilty defendants to pay for the costs of lab work, etc as part of court costs...

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