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Indiana attorney is still battling merit-selection in courts

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A Terre Haute attorney has been dealt another blow in his national effort to challenge judicial merit-selection systems in favor of popular elections.

On Wednesday, a federal judge in Kansas tossed a suit filed in August by Indiana attorney Jim Bopp on behalf of four residents challenging that state’s system of choosing judges through an attorney-citizen nominating commission – a system similar to what the Hoosier judiciary uses to select its appellate judges. The plaintiffs claimed the system is unconstitutional because it gives lawyers too much power and violates the voting rights of other residents.

The suit challenges the nine-person nominating commission that fills vacancies on the Kansas Supreme Court and state appellate courts, and in which lawyers elect five of those nine positions.

In a 13-page order in Robert Dool, et al. v. Anne Burke, et al., No. 10-1286, U.S. Judge Monti Belot ruled that the court recognizes this a “hot topic” brought by Bopp and some of the same parties looking to replace merit selection with popular elections or appointments by elected officials.

“It is not this court’s job to weigh in on the debate except to point out that Kansas voters approved the present system and the absence of evidence that Kansas’ system has not worked and will not continue to work to ensure that qualified individuals are appointed to the Kansas Supreme Court and the Kansas Court of Appeals,” he wrote.

He noted in a footnote that Kansas voters retained all four justices of the Kansas Supreme Court up for retention by margins of 60 percent or better on Nov. 2.

The judge in September had rejected a request by the plaintiffs for a preliminary injunction, refusing to block Kansas from filling a vacancy on its highest court.

Bopp has also challenged the merit-selection system in Alaska with a similar suit challenging that system in place for the appellate and trial courts. In Alaska, a seven-member Judicial Selection Council makes recommendations to the governor, who makes the final decision on a judge or justice. Of those seven members, the chief justice is the chair while three are non-lawyers appointed by the governor and confirmed by lawmakers, and three are lawyers appointed by the Alaska Bar Association's governing board.

A federal judge in the District of Alaska last year tossed out that suit, and now Bopp is asking for an appellate rehearing after the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on Sept. 30 affirmed the dismissal. That suit is Kenneth Kirk, et al. v. Chief Justice Walter Carpeneti, et al., No. 09-35860. The appellate court hasn’t ruled on that rehearing request filed Oct. 14.

Similar federal court challenges haven’t been raised about the Hoosier system, though some lawmakers have in recent years targeted the selection systems and tried unsuccessfully to change how the appellate or trial courts operate in choosing judges. Most of the Indiana trial judges face some type of election, though Lake and St. Joseph Superior courts are the only ones who use a nominating commission and retention system. Efforts to overturn those methods have gained steam recently, with lawmakers last year voting to change the St. Joseph system but Gov. Mitch Daniels vetoing that move and upholding merit selection.
 

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  1. Hysteria? Really Ben? Tell the young lady reported on in the link below that worrying about the sexualizing of our children is mere hysteria. Such thinking is common in the Royal Order of Jesters and other running sex vacays in Thailand or Brazil ... like Indy's Jared Fogle. Those tempted to call such concerns mere histronics need to think on this: http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/a-12-year-old-girl-live-streamed-her-suicide-it-took-two-weeks-for-facebook-to-take-the-video-down/ar-AAlT8ka?li=AA4ZnC&ocid=spartanntp

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  3. This is happening so much. Even in 2016.2017. I hope the father sue for civil rights violation. I hope he sue as more are doing and even without a lawyer as pro-se, he got a good one here. God bless him.

  4. JLAP and other courtiers ... Those running court systems, have most substance abuse issues. Probably self medicating to cover conscience issues arising out of acts furthering govt corruption

  5. I whole-heartedly agree with Doug Church's comment, above. Indiana lawyers were especially fortunate to benefit from Tom Pyrz' leadership and foresight at a time when there has been unprecedented change in the legal profession. Consider how dramatically computer technology and its role in the practice of law have changed over the last 25 years. The impact of the great recession of 2008 dramatically changed the composition and structure of law firms across the country. Economic pressures altered what had long been a routine, robust annual recruitment process for law students and recent law school graduates. That has, in turn, impacted law school enrollment across the country, placing upward pressure on law school tuition. The internet continues to drive significant changes in the provision of legal services in both public and private sectors. The ISBA has worked to make quality legal representation accessible and affordable for all who need it and to raise general public understanding of Indiana laws and procedures. How difficult it would have been to tackle each of these issues without Tom's leadership. Tom has set the tone for positive change at the ISBA to meet the evolving practice needs of lawyers of all backgrounds and ages. He has led the organization with vision, patience, flexibility, commitment, thoughtfulness & even humor. He will, indeed, be a tough act to follow. Thank you, Tom, for all you've done and all the energy you've invested in making the ISBA an excellent, progressive, highly responsive, all-inclusive, respectful & respected professional association during his tenure there.

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