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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. Falk said “At this point, at this minute, we’ll savor this particular victory.” “It certainly is a historic week on this front,” Cockrum said. “What a delight ... “Happy Independence Day to the women of the state of Indiana,” WOW. So we broke with England for the right to "off" our preborn progeny at will, and allow the processing plant doing the dirty deeds (dirt cheap) to profit on the marketing of those "products of conception." I was completely maleducated on our nation's founding, it would seem. (But I know the ACLU is hard at work to remedy that, too.)

  2. congratulations on such balanced journalism; I also love how fetus disposal affects women's health protection, as covered by Roe...

  3. It truly sickens me every time a case is compared to mine. The Indiana Supreme Court upheld my convictions based on a finding of “hidden threats.” The term “hidden threat” never appeared until the opinion in Brewington so I had no way of knowing I was on trial for making hidden threats because Dearborn County Prosecutor F Aaron Negangard argued the First Amendment didn't protect lies. Negangard convened a grand jury to investigate me for making “over the top” and “unsubstantiated” statements about court officials, not hidden threats of violence. My indictments and convictions were so vague, the Indiana Court of Appeals made no mention of hidden threats when they upheld my convictions. Despite my public defender’s closing arguments stating he was unsure of exactly what conduct the prosecution deemed to be unlawful, Rush found that my lawyer’s trial strategy waived my right to the fundamental error of being tried for criminal defamation because my lawyer employed a strategy that attempted to take advantage of Negangard's unconstitutional criminal defamation prosecution against me. Rush’s opinion stated the prosecution argued two grounds for conviction one constitutional and one not, however the constitutional true threat “argument” consistently of only a blanket reading of subsection 1 of the intimidation statute during closing arguments, making it impossible to build any kind of defense. Of course intent was impossible for my attorney to argue because my attorney, Rush County Chief Public Defender Bryan Barrett refused to meet with me prior to trial. The record is littered with examples of where I made my concerns known to the trial judge that I didn’t know the charges against me, I did not have access to evidence, all while my public defender refused to meet with me. Special Judge Brian Hill, from Rush Superior Court, refused to address the issue with my public defender and marched me to trial without access to evidence or an understanding of the indictments against me. Just recently the Indiana Public Access Counselor found that four over four years Judge Hill has erroneously denied access to the grand jury audio from my case, the most likely reason being the transcription of the grand jury proceedings omitted portions of the official audio record. The bottom line is any intimidation case involves an action or statement that is debatably a threat of physical violence. There were no such statements in my case. The Indiana Supreme Court took partial statements I made over a period of 41 months and literally connected them with dots… to give the appearance that the statements were made within the same timeframe and then claimed a person similarly situated would find the statements intimidating while intentionally leaving out surrounding contextual factors. Even holding the similarly situated test was to be used in my case, the prosecution argued that the only intent of my public writings was to subject the “victims” to ridicule and hatred so a similarly situated jury instruction wouldn't even have applied in my case. Chief Justice Rush wrote the opinion while Rush continued to sit on a committee with one of the alleged victims in my trial and one of the judges in my divorce, just as she'd done for the previous 7+ years. All of this information, including the recent PAC opinion against the Dearborn Superior Court II can be found on my blog www.danbrewington.blogspot.com.

  4. On a related note, I offered the ICLU my cases against the BLE repeatedly, and sought their amici aid repeatedly as well. Crickets. Usually not even a response. I am guessing they do not do allegations of anti-Christian bias? No matter how glaring? I have posted on other links the amicus brief that did get filed (search this ezine, e.g., Kansas attorney), read the Thomas More Society brief to note what the ACLU ran from like vampires from garlic. An Examiner pledged to advance diversity and inclusion came right out on the record and demanded that I choose Man's law or God's law. I wonder, had I been asked to swear off Allah ... what result then, ICLU? Had I been found of bad character and fitness for advocating sexual deviance, what result then ICLU? Had I been lifetime banned for posting left of center statements denigrating the US Constitution, what result ICLU? Hey, we all know don't we? Rather Biased.

  5. It was mentioned in the article that there have been numerous CLE events to train attorneys on e-filing. I would like someone to provide a list of those events, because I have not seen any such events in east central Indiana, and since Hamilton County is one of the counties where e-filing is mandatory, one would expect some instruction in this area. Come on, people, give some instruction, not just applause!

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