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Marion County judicial 'slating fees' subject of 2 inquiries

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An Indianapolis attorney and an Indianapolis Bar Association political action committee want the Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications to look into how Marion County judicial candidates contribute to political parties as part of the process in running to be a judge.

The two requests – one made in late December and the other in mid-January – focus on the Marion County selection system and the fees associated with that process, key issues as the county prepares for a majority of the Superior Court bench to be on the ballot this year.

il-paul-ogden04-15col.jpg Attorney Paul Ogden wants slating fees for Marion County judicial candidates prohibited. (IL Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

The fees are an integral part of the judicial selection system that’s been in place since the mid-1970s.

Marion County is the only Indiana county that uses a unique hybrid method of trial judge selection. The method stems from complete removal of the county’s Republican judges after the Watergate scandal. The Indianapolis legal community worked for three years to craft the system now in place in order to avoid the same turnover.

The result: Republicans and Democrats get the same number of judicial candidate ballot spots. For the 2012 election, each party has 10 spots to fill the 20 available judicial seats in the May primary. The parties hold slating conventions where they endorse those who will appear on the ballot, and each party collects money from candidates to pay for election costs. If someone isn’t slated and decides not to run against the slated candidates, that person receives an 80 percent refund.

The Republicans ask for $12,000 while the Democrats ask for $13,500, according to both party chairmen. The fees are not mandatory and are strictly designed to help cover the costs, the parties contend.

“While Marion County’s slating process is bad for judicial selection, it is even more egregious when coupled with slating fees,” attorney Paul Ogden said. “As judges are desperately out trying to raise money to pay their respective slating fees, we attorneys receive a number of fundraising letters. We feel compelled to contribute, and it’s clear that most of this fundraising activity is designed to cover slating fees.”

Ogden submitted a letter Jan. 11 to the qualifications commission contending that the judicial candidate fees are required “slating fees” that the commission prohibited in a 1992 advisory opinion.

The opinion pointed to the state’s judicial canons that prohibit the parties from requiring slating fees, even though they could ask judges to voluntarily contribute.

In his letter, Ogden cites a letter he received from an attorney on behalf of a judicial candidate that says, “Funds are needed to cover the cost of mailings and general campaign expenses, to say nothing of the required and substantial recommended contribution to the candidate’s political party in order to be considered at the organization’s slating convention …”

Ogden’s letter asks the commission to find that the amounts are prohibited even if they are described as voluntary, and that any slating fees paid for the 2012 election on the Republican or Democratic side be returned.

The political parties deny that they require slating fees.

“Anyone who’d say this is a required slating fee absolutely doesn’t understand our system,” said Marion County Republican Party chair Kyle Walker. “It’s voluntary, and to say otherwise is faulty on its face.”

Marion County Democratic party chair Ed Treacy said that Democrats in the past submitted a report to the state’s highest court about the amounts collected from judicial candidates and the expenses incurred for elections, and no one raised any concern.

“To me, it’s only fair for everyone to equally share in the expenses,” he said. “If someone doesn’t want to pay, they can still run and no one can stop someone from seeking election. In America, you have to carry your own fair share. That’s what our system allows.”

The Indianapolis Bar Association’s Attorneys for an Independent Bench Political Action Committee also wants the commission to weigh in on the slating fees. Former Indiana Supreme Court Justice Theodore Boehm and retired U.S. Magistrate V. Sue Shields, in their roles as co-chairs of the committee, made the request in late December.

The PAC’s work hasn’t fully started yet because of the questions about this fundraising practice, and Boehm also wonders if the IBA should be supporting a system that might conflict with professional conduct rules.

“A fundamental question this raises is should parties be using candidates as fundraising devices?” Boehm said. “This interjects campaign contributions into judicial races, and personally I think we’re better off without it.”

Marion County judges contacted by Indiana Lawyer who are on the bench or running for re-election declined to comment. But those contacted by the newspaper who have gone through the slating process and are no longer serving as a judge say their understanding has always been that the money is a required part of being endorsed by the political party. The question of appropriateness depends on who you ask.

When U.S. Judge William Lawrence ran for Marion Circuit judge in the 1990s, he said that slating fees were required and the legal community thought of them that way. That changed after the 1992 advisory opinion, but he said candidates were still expected to contribute. He left the state bench to become a federal magistrate a decade ago.

“This issue has been smoldering for years,” Lawrence said. “These fees are cash cows for the political parties, and they’ve been what’s standing in the way of changing the judicial selection process in Marion County.”

Former Marion Superior Judge Gary Miller, who was not slated in 2008 along with two other longtime judges, always had the understanding that the slating fees were required. Often, the slating comes down to those who are politically connected, not necessarily best qualified, he said. In his years of paying a fee, Miller said it equated to about $13,000.

“I’m torn, as a party loyalist who thinks there is a legitimate reason to ask candidates to contribute to these costs,” he said. “But I think it’s a bit unfair to use judicial candidates to raise substantial amounts for other candidates, which is what happens.”

Miller hopes the system eventually changes.

“At some point, we’re going to convince the parties that judges are different and shouldn’t be on the same type of slating and used as fundraising mechanisms,” he said. “We’ll convince them that we’re different than other elected officials. But we’re not there yet.”•
 

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  • judicial slating fees
    Yup, in Marion County we surely do have the best justice money can buy.
  • Slating Fees
    If Republican slating fees are $12,000 they've been lowered. They as of very recently was $25,000.

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  1. Just an aside, but regardless of the outcome, I 'm proud of Judge William Hughes. He was the original magistrate on the Home place issue. He ruled for Home Place, and was primaried by Brainard for it. Their tool Poindexter failed to unseat Hughes, who won support for his honesty and courage throughout the county, and he was reelected Judge of Hamilton County's Superior Court. You can still stand for something and survive. Thanks, Judge Hughes!

  2. CCHP's real accomplishment is the 2015 law signed by Gov Pence that basically outlaws any annexation that is forced where a 65% majority of landowners in the affected area disagree. Regardless of whether HP wins or loses, the citizens of Indiana will not have another fiasco like this. The law Gov Pence signed is a direct result of this malgovernance.

  3. I gave tempparry guardship to a friend of my granddaughter in 2012. I went to prison. I had custody. My daughter went to prison to. We are out. My daughter gave me custody but can get her back. She was not order to give me custody . but now we want granddaughter back from friend. She's 14 now. What rights do we have

  4. This sure is not what most who value good governance consider the Rule of Law to entail: "In a letter dated March 2, which Brizzi forwarded to IBJ, the commission dismissed the grievance “on grounds that there is not reasonable cause to believe that you are guilty of misconduct.”" Yet two month later reasonable cause does exist? (Or is the commission forging ahead, the need for reasonable belief be damned? -- A seeming violation of the Rules of Profession Ethics on the part of the commission) Could the rule of law theory cause one to believe that an explanation is in order? Could it be that Hoosier attorneys live under Imperial Law (which is also a t-word that rhymes with infamy) in which the Platonic guardians can do no wrong and never owe the plebeian class any explanation for their powerful actions. (Might makes it right?) Could this be a case of politics directing the commission, as celebrated IU Mauer Professor (the late) Patrick Baude warned was happening 20 years ago in his controversial (whisteblowing) ethics lecture on a quite similar topic: http://www.repository.law.indiana.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1498&context=ilj

  5. I have a case presently pending cert review before the SCOTUS that reveals just how Indiana regulates the bar. I have been denied licensure for life for holding the wrong views and questioning the grand inquisitors as to their duties as to state and federal constitutional due process. True story: https://www.scribd.com/doc/299040839/2016Petitionforcert-to-SCOTUS Shorter, Amici brief serving to frame issue as misuse of govt licensure: https://www.scribd.com/doc/312841269/Thomas-More-Society-Amicus-Brown-v-Ind-Bd-of-Law-Examiners

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