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Indiana Judges Association: Are changes needed to ‘change of judge’ rule?

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IJA-Dreyer-DavidOnce upon a time, there was a corporation that wanted to sue a lot of other corporations in Indiana. After the lawsuit started, one defending corporation moved for an automatic change of judge under Indiana rules. The case was re-assigned, and a different defending corporation moved to dismiss, citing related out-of-state litigation and the like. After about a year and a half of briefing, arguing and procedural running in place, the motion was denied. So the moving corporation filed its own automatic change of judge motion. But the judge said “no, y’all already got one change, can’t have another.” Then, all the defendants went to the Indiana Supreme Court and convinced it to let them have another change of judge. And when the change was made randomly by the local clerk, the case ended up with the original judge where it started way back when. No one seemed to notice and no one seemed to care.

This is a true story.

An objective observer would have to conclude that the parties did not really care who the judge was – they must have had some other strategic reason for delay, or wanted to discharge a judge who ruled against them once and might again, or some other reason. But the whole basis for an automatic change of judge is rooted in the ideal that you can get one free pass on a judge you think is biased, and be excused from having to allege or prove bias, especially when that judge is the one who gets to decide if you are right. It has now become necessary to reconcile the ideal with the reality: Changing judges as a gaming litigation strategy has nothing to do with who the judge is or any actual bias.

According to our Division of State Administration, there may have been as many as 3,500 automatic change of judge motions in Indiana over each of the last two years. This is almost 10 times over for each judge in the state and about 5 percent of the most commonly filed civil cases. That’s a lot of changing. Are there that many parties and lawyers who have that many problems with that many judges? Or is it just a small group of biased judges that are changed from virtually all of their cases? Or, more likely, is it a growing strategy of lawyers and litigants that is largely unrelated to actual provable bias?

Originally, the National Center of State Courts reports, automatic change of judge procedures arose as far back as the 1800s to stem problems in less populous communities where only one judge ruled and he or she knew literally everybody. It also allowed defendants to “unpick” judges picked by plaintiffs. Former Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard has traced the Indiana history and found automatic change motions emerging in the 1950’s when the profession recognized them as preferable over the friction bred by disqualification motions. But Maurer School of Law professor Charles Geyh, former director of the American Bar Association’s Judicial Disqualification Project and judicial ethics expert, says that only about 20 states have automatic change of judge rules, and those are almost all west of the Mississippi (where Judge Judy lives, so they need it). He sees a more central problem, that is, we are “divided over when it is reasonable for the presumption of impartiality to yield to the suspicion that extralegal influences may have compromised the judges’ impartial judgment.” If judges are presumptively neutral, how best to litigate a change of the few who are not?

While Professor Geyh acknowledges the delay game now grown into automatic change of judge procedures, he believes the best solution is found by providing disqualification motions be decided by a neutral judicial officer, not the targeted judge, which increases the legitimacy of disqualification procedures and thus increases pubic confidence in courts’ impartiality. “They should not be grading their own papers,” says Professor Geyh.

The ABA finds, naturally, that disqualification motions are less common in states with automatic change rules. But if we adopt procedures like Professor Geyh suggests, do we still need the obvious downsides of delay now inherent in automatic change? Tom Carusillo, the director of Trial Court Services in our State Court Administration, reminds us that Indiana changed its rule just this year by removing the striking panels. The old rule allowed the discharged judge one privilege before he or she left the case: listing the judges for the parties to pick. The striking panels are now gone, says Carusillo, because data showed significant delays and confusion in many cases. In addition, former Chief Justice Shepard recalls that similar considerations led to the repeal of automatic change of venue rules and restricted automatic changes in child-related matters.

So, it is worth wondering why we need automatic change of judge rules and if the trend is going against them. After all, we judges don’t get an automatic change of counsel. And believe me, there are times when we could really use one. So if we can live without it and be responsible professionals, why can’t lawyers? Just sayin’ … .•

__________

Judge David J. Dreyer has served on the Marion Superior Court since 1997. He graduated from the University of Notre Dame and Notre Dame Law School. He is a former board member of the Indiana Judges Association.

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  1. I grew up on a farm and live in the county and it's interesting that the big industrial farmers like Jeff Shoaf don't live next to their industrial operations...

  2. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  3. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  4. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  5. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

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