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Feighner: Judicial selection in Indiana

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Indiana Lawyer Focus

Indiana’s system of judicial selection through the Indiana Judicial Nominating Commission and the periodic retention vote for appellate judges and justices vindicate the core constitutional value – judicial independence. The French philosopher, Montesquieu, observed in his 1752 Treatise “Spirit of Laws” that “There is no liberty, if the power of judging be not separated from the legislative and executive powers.” More recently, the American College of Trial Lawyers’ policy statement on judicial independence quotes Chief Justice Randall Shepard: “Judicial independence is the principle that judges must decide cases fairly and impartially, relying only on the facts and the law.”

Constitutional role for the IJNC

The Judicial Article of the Indiana Constitution became effective Jan. 1, 1972. The Indiana Constitutional amendment prepared by the Judicial Study Commission was first presented to the Indiana General Assembly. After considerable controversy and debate in the 1967 and 1969 sessions of the General Assembly, the judicial article was approved by the legislature and won adoption by a convincing plurality of 141,323 votes in the 1970 electoral referendum. The commission has the constitutional duty to select and nominate three qualified attorneys for vacancies on the Indiana Court of Appeals or the Indiana Supreme Court for consideration by the governor. Unlike some other states, the Indiana governor may not reject the panel and call for a new one. In Indiana, if the governor does not make a selection from the three names within 60 days, the chief justice, presiding member of the commission, must pick the nominee from the panel. In addition, the commission selects the chief justice from the members of the Indiana Supreme Court every five years. That selection will occur again in December 2011 upon the expiration of Chief Justice Shepard’s current five-year term. The commission consists of seven members, including the chief justice and three “non-attorney citizen” members appointed by the governor for three-year terms. These terms are staggered and each of the appointees represents a different judicial district in South, Central and Northern Indiana. Similarly, three attorney members are elected by Indiana attorneys. The current attorney members are John C. Trimble, John O. Feighner, and James O. McDonald. Trimble ends his term Dec. 31, 2010. William Winingham, Indianapolis, was recently chosen in a spirited Central Indiana election among attorneys. The commission members have a statutory responsibility to evaluate each candidate, in writing, on the following considerations: legal education, legal writings, reputation in the practice of law, physical condition, financial interests, activities in public service, and any other pertinent information the commission feels is important in selecting the most highly qualified individuals for judicial office.

ITLA members have a long history of service to the Indiana Judicial Nominating Commission. Beginning in 1972, 14 members of ITLA have served varying terms as commissioners. The first commissioner was Howard Young, former president of ITLA. Other commission members included Donald Ward, Thomas Singer, Glenn Tabor, Theodore Lockyear, Daniel Roby, Charles Berger, Peter Obremskey, Terrance Smith, James McDonald, James Young, Sherrill Wm. Colvin, and Stephen Williams. Seven of those members have served as president of ITLA. Other prominent Indiana lawyers active in business litigation, insurance defense practice, and mediation also have served as commission members throughout the years.

2010 judicial selection process

Beginning in June 2010, the commission embarked on an extraordinary interview process to select three names to forward to Gov. Mitch Daniels to fill the vacancy upon the retirement of Justice Theodore Boehm. As Commissioner Trimble noted in his editorial in the Indianapolis Star, Sept. 28, 2010: “The recent selection process that resulted in the appointment of Judge Steven H. David to the Indiana Supreme Court exceeded all prior precedent for direct public access and input. For the first time, candidate applications were posted online, which allowed the press and the public to review every detail of applicant information from their work and educational background to their litigation and medical history. In addition, the public had access to the candidates’ writing samples, letters of recommendation and academic transcripts. This information allowed the press to fully develop stories of the candidates in the process.”

As a result of this process, the commission received valuable input on the candidates from legislators, local elected officials knowledgeable about lawyers and trial judge applicants, appellate judges, other trial judges, law professors, business persons, neighbors, friends, and even high school teachers. This process provided the commission members with a real flavor for the judicial philosophy and experience of each candidate. Importantly, the information was publicly disseminated and subject to validation through media and Internet comments by interested citizens. When the process was completed, the commission selected two experienced trial judges and an extraordinarily talented appellate advocate for the governor’s consideration.

Compare our Indiana judicial selection history with the sordid specter played out in Ohio, Illinois, and Michigan. In these three adjoining states, candidates for appellate judicial offices have spent a total of $69 million on high-court elections in the last decade. Nationally, candidates for state Supreme Court races raised $206 million in 2000 through 2009 and special interest groups spent an estimated $39 million more on independent television ads on appellate court races. Thankfully, Indiana has so far avoided this controversy in judicial selection of our appellate judges and Supreme Court justices. It is vital that the Indiana Judicial Nominating Commission continue to fulfill its role in a credible manner in order to earn the continuing support of our citizens.•

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John O. Feighner, Fort Wayne, attorney and president-elect of the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association, is serving his second term on the Indiana Judicial Nominating Commission. Feighner views his service on the commission as a phenomenal leadership opportunity to benefit the citizens of Indiana and the bench and bar. He was first selected to serve as a member of the commission in 2003 for a three-year term. He returned to the commission for his second three-year term in 2009. Interest in the Indiana Judicial Nominating Commission’s work has been highlighted this year with the selection of three nominees for the Indiana Supreme Court vacancy submitted to Governor Mitch Daniels. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.
 

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  1. Am I the only one who sees that the City is essentially giving away the MSA site AND giving millions to build new buildings on the site when this site would be the perfect place for the Justice Complex? Across from City-County, check; keeping it centrally located, check, etc. It's my understanding that the GM site must be purchased by the City from Motors Liquidation Company. STOP WASTING WHAT WE ALREADY HAVE AND OUR TAX DOLLARS! The Ballard Administration has not been known for it's common sense...never voted for him and never will!

  2. This guy sounds like the classic molester/manipulator.

  3. Louis D. Brandeis was born in 1856. At 9 years of age it would have been 1865. The Brandeis family did not own slaves. My source Louis D. Brandeis: A Life, by Melvin L. Urofsky.

  4. My name is Matthew Lucas Major, I recently went through a jury trial in Bloomington , In. It was the week of Feb 19-21. Although I have been incarcerated since August 5, 2014. The reason I 'am writing to you sir is on the 21 of February the jury came in with a very excessive and wrongful verdict of guilty on 6 child molesting charges against my daughter who was 9 at the time I was accused. I also had 2 other Felonies one of Intimidation and 1 of Sexual Vicarious Gratification. Judge Marc Kellam on the second day of trial gave me a not guilty on those 2 felonies. The jury was sent out during that time and when brought back Judge Kellam told them to not concern themselves with the 2 Felonies that he ruled on them. They were told to not let evidence they had already heard influence there verdicts. I never in my life touched any child sexually and definitely not with my own daughter. When I was arrested Detective Shawn Karr told me I would be convicted guilty just on my daughters word even without evidence. That's just what happened. my public defender did me so wrong he never once proved to the court and jury all the lies the child told, and Jeremy Noel my public defender could of proven the lies easily. The stories in Serenity's depositions and Forensic interview changed and were not consistent as Prosecutor Darcie Fawcett claimed they were. Yet my attorney never mentioned that. The facts that the child accused me of full penetration in her vagina and rectum was proven lies. Doctor Roberta Hibbard of Riley hospital in Indianapolis confirmed Serenity's hymen intact, no scars, no tearing, no signs of rape to her. Yet my attorney didn't use that knowledge . the DNA was all in my favor. I tell you I will spend my entire life in prison going through rape and beatings etc. even Judge Kellam abused his authority by telling the jurors to listen and believe what the prosecutors side in evidence like my daughters testimony. In one interview with the detectives my daughter got flustered with her mom and said on camera " I'm saying what you told me to mom"!! Yet Mr. Noel said nor did anything to even resemble a defense attorney. Judge Kellam allowed edited version of a taped conversation between the child and her mother. Also Judge Kellam allowed the Prosecutor too bring in to my case a knife found under my seat, the knife wasn't part of my case. She was allowed by my attorney and the judge to put a huge picture of it on the screen and huge picture of my naked privates in a full courtroom and open court. Ms. Fawcett says to jury see how easy Mr. Major could reach the knife and cut his Childs throat. Even though I had no weapons charge against these cases. This gave the jurors prejudice thought against me thinking I threatened her with that knife and how scared she would of been knowing i could get it and kill her. On my sentencing court March 19, 2014 my public defender told Judge Kellam he wish to resign from being my attorney and wished for the court to give me outside council to file a error to trial or appeal. We were denied. Now after openly knowing my public defender don't want to represent me he has to. Well when as parents we make our kids clean a room when they really don't wish to, well the child will but don't mean she will do a good job, that's where I'm at with Mr. Noel. please dont ignore mine and my families pleas for your help . we have all the legal proof you could need to prove Im innocent. Please dont make my spend years in prison innocent when you can fix this wrong. Im not saying Im a perfect man or that I was a perfect dad to my 2 children none of us are. Ive made some bad choices in life and I paid for them. But I didnt ever touch or rape my daughter . I love my children with all my heart. And now through needing attention and a ex-wife who told my granny several times she wish she could put me in prison to get me out of their lives. Well my ex finally accomplished her goal. Sad part is she is destroying our daughter with all this horrific lies and things she taught my daughter to say. My daughter will need therapist to ever hope for a chance of a normal life after what she had done to her by her mom and their side of the family. My daughter told everyone even on stand she had a dream months before i supposedly molested her in this dream I was molesting her and when I finally did it matched her dream perfectly. She admitted to watching movies about little girls being molested and watching U-Tube videos about child molesting all before it happened supposedly to her. Doesn't that sound very unusual that a non molested 9 yr old would need to know so much about being molested? The only reason I could think a 9 year old would need so much information is to be prepared to know what to say and be able to say how it felt what took place etc.. So when questioned by authorities she would be prepared. And there again sir if a parent is pre grooming a 9 year old child she would need intimate details . Like telling her daughter about a couple moles on my private area. The child admitted to sneaking my cell and looking many many times at nudes of me and my girlfriend even one where my penis was entering my girlfriends vagina. In that picture my moles are obvious. Yet when prosecutor showed everyone in court my privates and pictures of the moles she said the only way the child would know about them is if she saw them for herself. My attorney once again said nothing about the pictures my child saw. Or could a ex-wife be able to describe my moles to help her case against getting rid of me? I beg you help me. This is my very existence. Ive lost everything , a good job, a wonderful girlfriend, my freedom, but worse thing Ive lost is my children. They were my reason to get up every morning and strive to be better. The wonderful bond I had with my Serenity is gone. After this I would be afraid to even hug her for fear of what next can they do to me. I'm not afraid to tell you I sit here in this cell and try to hold back my tears. Everyone knows you cant show weakness in prison. My life has already been threatened here at Wabash Valley Prison. After only 3 days of arrival. I was tricked into signing a waiver now Im in G Block General Population with 6 child molesting felony charges. Mrs. Hart as a 18 year old I almost died hooked to machines in hospital almost 1 month and now I know that fear was childish compared to this . I cant help but put emotions in this, after all Mrs. Hart Im human and God help Me I never been more afraid in my life. I didnt hurt my little girl I didnt touch her sexually. As much as it shreds me and fills my mind what Im facing I worry more about my mom and granny because of their great love for me mam they are suffering so deeply. I aint done this things but my loved ones suffering right along beside me and If you take my case you will be in essence freeing them also. I sent momma this letter and asked her to email it to you. I'm scared I have been done so unjustly by our legal system and I need you to fix this and give me freedom. I ask you please don't just ignore my pleas. Here in America its nice to be able to trust our legal justice system, well they destroyed my and my loved ones trust in our justice system . And I'm trusting in You !!! My entire family is suffering this nightmare with me. My 77 year old granny had a stroke and isn't doing so well. My single mother that raised 3 kids alone is dying from Lupus and since my arrest has stayed so sick and weary. Our lives torn to peices by a government I was taught I could trust in. my momma has tried so many innocent project and wrongfully accused and cant get anywhere. please please help me. A quote from the late Nelson Mandela: To be free is not merely to cast off ones chains, But to live in a way that respects and enhances The Freedom Of Others. I have Faith in you and your clinic to cast my chains off and give me freedom I do deserve as a wrongfully accused Man, son, brother, father, friend. Matthew Major DOC# 246179 Cause # : 53c02-1308-FA-000779 God Bless you. Please contact me with your decision so I know you made a life changing decision for me , just please at least write me so I know you care enough about your citizens to respond to cries for your help. You can speak openly with my mother Charlotte Spain (828) 476-0406: 71 Lakeview Dr. Canton, NC 28716 Thank You Matthew Major I know yall get thousands of request and inmates claiming innocence, and each person who are innocent deserve to have organizations like yours willing to fight for them and I give yall so much Thanks and I thank God everyday yall are out there caring enough to help free the innocents. Since discovering firsthand how easily lives and families can be destroyed by Poor Defense attorneys not doing their job . And Prosecutors allowed to do as they please in court

  5. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

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