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.•


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. I have an open CHINS case I failed a urine screen I have since got clean completed IOP classes now in after care passed home inspection my x sister in law has my children I still don't even have unsupervised when I have been clean for over 4 months my x sister wants to keep the lids for good n has my case working with her I just discovered n have proof that at one of my hearing dcs case worker stated in court to the judge that a screen was dirty which caused me not to have unsupervised this was at the beginning two weeks after my initial screen I thought the weed could have still been in my system was upset because they were suppose to check levels n see if it was going down since this was only a few weeks after initial instead they said dirty I recently requested all of my screens from redwood because I take prescriptions that will show up n I was having my doctor look at levels to verify that matched what I was prescripted because dcs case worker accused me of abuseing when I got my screens I found out that screen I took that dcs case worker stated in court to judge that caused me to not get granted unsupervised was actually negative what can I do about this this is a serious issue saying a parent failed a screen in court to judge when they didn't please advise

  2. I have a degree at law, recent MS in regulatory studies. Licensed in KS, admitted b4 S& 7th circuit, but not to Indiana bar due to political correctness. Blacklisted, nearly unemployable due to hostile state action. Big Idea: Headwinds can overcome, esp for those not within the contours of the bell curve, the Lego Movie happiness set forth above. That said, even without the blacklisting for holding ideas unacceptable to the Glorious State, I think the idea presented above that a law degree open many vistas other than being a galley slave to elitist lawyers is pretty much laughable. (Did the law professors of Indiana pay for this to be published?)

  3. Paul Hartman of Burbank, Oh who is helping Sister Fuller with this Con Artist Kevin Bart McCarthy scares Sister Joseph Therese, Patricia Ann Fuller very much that McCarthy will try and hurt Patricia Ann Fuller and Paul Hartman of Burbank, Oh or any member of his family. Sister is very, very scared, (YES, I AM) This McCarthy guy is a real, real CON MAN and crook. I try to totall flatter Kevin Bart McCARTHY to keep him from hurting my best friends in this world which are Carolyn Rose and Paul Hartman. I Live in total fear of this man Kevin Bart McCarthy and try to praise him as a good man to keep us ALL from his bad deeds. This man could easy have some one cause us a very bad disability. You have to PRAISAE in order TO PROTECT yourself. He lies and makes up stories about people and then tries to steal if THEY OWN THRU THE COURTS A SPECIAL DEVOTION TO PROTECT, EX> Our Lady of America DEVOTION. EVERYONE who reads this, PLEASE BE CAREFUL of Kevin Bart McCarthy of Indianapolis, IN My Phone No. IS 419-435-3838.

  4. Joe, you might want to do some reading on the fate of Hoosier whistleblowers before you get your expectations raised up.

  5. I had a hospital and dcs caseworker falsify reports that my child was born with drugs in her system. I filed a complaint with the Indiana department of health....and they found that the hospital falsified drug screens in their investigation. Then I filed a complaint with human health services in Washington DC...dcs drug Testing is unregulated and is indicating false positives...they are currently being investigated by human health services. Then I located an attorney and signed contracts one month ago to sue dcs and Anderson community hospital. Once the suit is filed I am taking out a loan against the suit and paying a law firm to file a writ of mandamus challenging the courts jurisdiction to invoke chins case against me. I also forwarded evidence to a u.s. senator who contacted hhs to push an investigation faster. Once the lawsuit is filed local news stations will be running coverage on the situation. Easy day....people will be losing their jobs soon...and judge pancol...who has attempted to cover up what has happened will also be in trouble. The drug testing is a kids for cash and federal funding situation.