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In-box: IBA's move is a step in the right direction

September 15, 2010
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Letters to the Editor

To the editor:

Several articles have been written on the recently announced Indianapolis Bar Association PAC relating to judicial campaign contributions. The article appearing in this paper compelled me to write this letter to the editor.

Our legal community has for years worked under a system that requires judicial candidates to fund-raise from lawyers who appear before them. This puts attorneys and judges alike in the untenable position of being linked both by money and justice. With the U.S. Supreme Court case of Caperton v. Massey came the recognition that this system can, and often does, create an appearance of impropriety that simply is not tolerable. The court gave no bright-line test to determine when direct campaign contributions are beyond scrutiny; no threshold amount was offered for guidance, and there was no exclusion for “judges in Marion County who have integrity.” Is the amount of the contribution the guiding factor, or is it the personal financial support that is key? Does a client care whether $150 or $1,500 was given or is the issue really the direct financial link between attorney and judge? In his dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts recognized that the opinion provided no guidance on these issues and opined that the case would “inevitably lead to an increase in allegations that judges are biased, however groundless those charges may be.”

To the astute, informed reader, the opinion left unanswered the question of when direct contributions, in any amount, are ever acceptable between lawyer and judge. Indeed, Caperton raised the profile of an issue deserving of legitimate concern and did nothing to quell the public perception that perhaps justice can be bought. Just this past year, attorneys were scrutinized by the media for hosting fundraisers and contributing to public officials in the legal field. The public was led to believe that these contributions, no matter how small, were evidence of untoward motivations and ill-gotten gains. In fact, this very paper used speculation and innuendo to imply that attorneys were buying justice for their clients. The Indiana Lawyer article “Justice for Sale?” was similarly off the mark.

The real story here is that lawyers are concerned about misconceptions surrounding the legal system and are working to do something about it. As with every initiative undertaken, the bar does not respond with a “knee-jerk” reaction. Instead, the issues brought to light by Caperton over a year ago were carefully studied and all options were considered. The alternative offered by the bar to avoid direct contributions to judicial campaigns neither presents constitutional free speech concerns as suggested by “some people” in the article, nor does it solve all issues relating to the election of trial judges in Marion County. The proper, honest role that money plays in judicial elections is just one of those issues. The IBA through its board has, creatively and courageously, attempted to undertake positive reform in this regard.

All too often, tough issues get buried for fear of facing them; problems persist rather than solutions being implemented because answers are not easy or risk-free. As the PAC is put to use, it will be refined as with everything the bar does. We don’t take that task lightly. That the PAC has been criticized by some as not enough does not detract from the fact that it is, first and foremost, a step in the right direction.•

Christine Hayes Hickey, President

Indianapolis Bar Association

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  1. Major social engineering imposed by judicial order well in advance of democratic change, has been the story of the whole post ww2 period. Contraception, desegregation, abortion, gay marriage: all rammed down the throats of Americans who didn't vote to change existing laws on any such thing, by the unelected lifetime tenure Supreme court heirarchs. Maybe people came to accept those things once imposed upon them, but, that's accommodation not acceptance; and surely not democracy. So let's quit lying to the kids telling them this is a democracy. Some sort of oligarchy, but no democracy that's for sure, and it never was. A bourgeois republic from day one.

  2. JD Massur, yes, brings to mind a similar stand at a Texas Mission in 1836. Or Vladivostok in 1918. As you seemingly gloat, to the victors go the spoils ... let the looting begin, right?

  3. I always wondered why high fence deer hunting was frowned upon? I guess you need to keep the population steady. If you don't, no one can enjoy hunting! Thanks for the post! Fence

  4. Whether you support "gay marriage" or not is not the issue. The issue is whether the SCOTUS can extract from an unmentionable somewhere the notion that the Constitution forbids government "interference" in the "right" to marry. Just imagine time-traveling to Philadelphia in 1787. Ask James Madison if the document he and his fellows just wrote allowed him- or forbade government to "interfere" with- his "right" to marry George Washington? He would have immediately- and justly- summoned the Sergeant-at-Arms to throw your sorry self out into the street. Far from being a day of liberation, this is a day of capitulation by the Rule of Law to the Rule of What's Happening Now.

  5. With today's ruling, AG Zoeller's arguments in the cases of Obamacare and Same-sex Marriage can be relegated to the ash heap of history. 0-fer

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