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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. It really doesn't matter what the law IS, if law enforcement refuses to take reports (or take them seriously), if courts refuse to allow unrepresented parties to speak (especially in Small Claims, which is supposedly "informal"). It doesn't matter what the law IS, if constituents are unable to make effective contact or receive any meaningful response from their representatives. Two of our pets were unnecessarily killed; court records reflect that I "abandoned" them. Not so; when I was denied one of them (and my possessions, which by court order I was supposed to be able to remove), I went directly to the court. And earlier, when I tried to have the DV PO extended (it expired while the subject was on probation for violating it), the court denied any extension. The result? Same problems, less than eight hours after expiration. Ironic that the county sheriff was charged (and later pleaded to) with intimidation, but none of his officers seemed interested or capable of taking such a report from a private citizen. When I learned from one officer what I needed to do, I forwarded audio and transcript of one occurrence and my call to law enforcement (before the statute of limitations expired) to the prosecutor's office. I didn't even receive an acknowledgement. Earlier, I'd gone in to the prosecutor's office and been told that the officer's (written) report didn't match what I said occurred. Since I had the audio, I can only say that I have very little faith in Indiana government or law enforcement.

  2. One can only wonder whether Mr. Kimmel was paid for his work by Mr. Burgh ... or whether that bill fell to the citizens of Indiana, many of whom cannot afford attorneys for important matters. It really doesn't take a judge(s) to know that "pavement" can be considered a deadly weapon. It only takes a brain and some education or thought. I'm glad to see the conviction was upheld although sorry to see that the asphalt could even be considered "an issue".

  3. In response to bryanjbrown: thank you for your comment. I am familiar with Paul Ogden (and applaud his assistance to Shirley Justice) and have read of Gary Welsh's (strange) death (and have visited his blog on many occasions). I am not familiar with you (yet). I lived in Kosciusko county, where the sheriff was just removed after pleading in what seems a very "sweetheart" deal. Unfortunately, something NEEDS to change since the attorneys won't (en masse) stand up for ethics (rather making a show to please the "rules" and apparently the judges). I read that many attorneys are underemployed. Seems wisdom would be to cull the herd and get rid of the rotting apples in practice and on the bench, for everyone's sake as well as justice. I'd like to file an attorney complaint, but I have little faith in anything (other than the most flagrant and obvious) resulting in action. My own belief is that if this was medicine, there'd be maimed and injured all over and the carnage caused by "the profession" would be difficult to hide. One can dream ... meanwhile, back to figuring out to file a pro se "motion to dismiss" as well as another court required paper that Indiana is so fond of providing NO resources for (unlike many other states, who don't automatically assume that citizens involved in the court process are scumbags) so that maybe I can get the family law attorney - whose work left me with no settlement, no possessions and resulted in the death of two pets (etc ad nauseum) - to stop abusing the proceedings supplemental and small claims rules and using it as a vehicle for harassment and apparently, amusement.

  4. Been on social security sense sept 2011 2massive strokes open heart surgery and serious ovarian cancer and a blood clot in my lung all in 14 months. Got a letter in may saying that i didn't qualify and it was in form like i just applied ,called social security she said it don't make sense and you are still geting a check in june and i did ,now i get a check from my part D asking for payment for july because there will be no money for my membership, call my prescription coverage part D and confirmed no check will be there.went to social security they didn't want to answer whats going on just said i should of never been on it .no one knows where this letter came from was California im in virginia and been here sense my strokes and vcu filed for my disability i was in the hospital when they did it .It's like it was a error . My ,mothers social security was being handled in that office in California my sister was dealing with it and it had my social security number because she died last year and this letter came out of the same office and it came at the same time i got the letter for my mother benefits for death and they had the same date of being typed just one was on the mail Saturday and one on Monday. . I think it's a mistake and it should been fixed instead there just getting rid of me .i never got a formal letter saying when i was being tsken off.

  5. Employers should not have racially discriminating mind set. It has huge impact on the society what the big players do or don't do in the industry. Background check is conducted just to verify whether information provided by the prospective employee is correct or not. It doesn't have any direct combination with the rejection of the employees. If there is rejection, there should be something effective and full-proof things on the table that may keep the company or the people associated with it in jeopardy.

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