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Lawmakers mull veto override on merit selection

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Vetoed legislation that would scrap St. Joseph County's merit selection for judicial elections and also add a new three-judge panel to the Indiana Court of Appeals is back in play.

The Indiana General Assembly during its final week revived House Enrolled Act 1491, which was passed by both chambers during the 2009 session but later received a veto from Gov. Mitch Daniels. Introduced by Rep Craig Fry, D-Mishawaka, the act would have replaced merit selection with nonpartisan elections in the St. Joseph Superior Courts, one of two systems statewide that currently use that selection method. It would also have created a sixth appellate panel starting in 2011.

Last year, the governor wrote a veto message supporting merit selection and refusing to interfere with that process that's been in place for more than three decades in St. Joseph County.

"It is a model to be emulated, not discarded. It is not broken; it requires no repair. It has produced outstanding jurists and contains sufficient measures of public accountability. I believe it neither necessary nor wise to re-politicize the courts of St. Joseph County," he wrote.

He also wrote that it would be tough to justify the $2 million yearly cost for a new appellate panel, given the current fiscal challenges, but that the proposal should be considered on the merits on its own - not attached to the merit-selection change.

"Moreover, if I were to sign a bill linking these two proposals, it could contribute to public cynicism by creating the appearance that my acquiescence was purchased with more appointments. Whatever the merits of expanding the Court of Appeals may be, they should be considered alone."

The House put the measure on the calendar for Wednesday but it didn't get any action before representatives adjourned until Thursday afternoon - nothing had happened by IL deadline. A simple majority from both the House and Senate is needed for a veto override. Legislative staff and the Indiana State Bar Association expected it would get more attention before the session ends March 14.

ISBA legislative counsel Paje Felts said she wasn't surprised by the quiet reintroduction of the act during the final days of the session, but that she and others in the legal community had hoped it wouldn't be brought back for consideration.

ISBA, Indianapolis Bar Association, and St. Joseph County Bar Association were among the organizations to come out strongly against changing the selection system in St. Joe, fearing that a shift there would lead to a change in Lake County where merit selection and retention are also used. The topic is controversial at every level, and late last year the Judicial Conference of Indiana proposed adopting a statewide merit-selection system. That move hasn't gotten support from the Indiana Judges Association, which says there isn't enough consensus statewide and in the largest areas like Marion County on how to move toward a unified judicial selection system for Indiana.

In South Bend, attorney and former ISBA president Bill Jonas said he was disappointed in how this legislation was brought back.

"I find it discouraging and more than a little cynical that this would surface at the end of the session when it could be hidden or lost in the shuffle of end-of-term business," he wrote in an e-mail. "It's even harder to believe when analysts say that the new appellate court panel is unnecessary, and that it would cost more than $2 million annually. It doesn't make sense to me to be spending that kind of money when we're laying off teachers and slashing funding for higher education."

Check http://www.theindianalawyer.com for updates on this story.

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  1. I just wanted to point out that Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, Senator Feinstein, former Senate majority leader Bill Frist, and former attorney general John Ashcroft are responsible for this rubbish. We need to keep a eye on these corrupt, arrogant, and incompetent fools.

  2. Well I guess our politicians have decided to give these idiot federal prosecutors unlimited power. Now if I guy bounces a fifty-dollar check, the U.S. attorney can intentionally wait for twenty-five years or so and have the check swabbed for DNA and file charges. These power hungry federal prosecutors now have unlimited power to mess with people. we can thank Wisconsin's Jim Sensenbrenner and Diane Feinstein, John Achcroft and Bill Frist for this one. Way to go, idiots.

  3. I wonder if the USSR had electronic voting machines that changed the ballot after it was cast? Oh well, at least we have a free media serving as vicious watchdog and exposing all of the rot in the system! (Insert rimshot)

  4. Jose, you are assuming those in power do not wish to be totalitarian. My experience has convinced me otherwise. Constitutionalists are nearly as rare as hens teeth among the powerbrokers "managing" us for The Glorious State. Oh, and your point is dead on, el correcta mundo. Keep the Founders’ (1791 & 1851) vision alive, my friend, even if most all others, and especially the ruling junta, chase only power and money (i.e. mammon)

  5. Hypocrisy in high places, absolute immunity handed out like Halloween treats (it is the stuff of which tyranny is made) and the belief that government agents are above the constitutions and cannot be held responsible for mere citizen is killing, perhaps has killed, The Republic. And yet those same power drunk statists just reel on down the hallway toward bureaucratic fascism.

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