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Marion County slating reform gets new push

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The election of 20 Marion Superior judges is little more than two months away, but the 10 slated Democrats and 10 slated Republicans on the ballot needn’t worry too much. They’re all but guaranteed victory.

That’s in large part because each of them made identical contributions to their respective county political parties, after which they won their party’s endorsement, access to resources and backing in their party slating conventions and primary elections.

The result: The 10 slated candidates in each party won in the primary, and voters in the Nov. 6 general election select 10 candidates from each party.

Party leaders insist there are no “slating fees.” But at least one former Supreme Court justice believes that whatever the Marion County system is called, it’s broken.

“The whole perception of the judicial system is compromised,” retired Indiana Justice Ted Boehm said. He said the slating system “forces judges to become an unwilling source of funding for the political parties.”
 

Theodore Boehm Boehm

“I don’t fault the judges; they have no choice,” Boehm said. “The only way to fix it is to change the system.”

Between November 2011 and January 2012, the 10 Democratic candidates for Superior Court judge who were slated at the party’s convention in February each contributed individually or through their committees $13,100 to the Marion County Democratic Central Committee, according to a review of campaign finance records at the Election Division of the Indiana Secretary of State’s office.

The records also show each of the 10 Republican judicial candidates who were later slated at the Jan. 28 convention gave $12,000 to the Marion County Republican Central Committee individually or through their committees by Jan. 17. Seven of the 10 paid in full or in part on that date, the date by which all candidates’ final contributions were made, according to the records. Of those, four made identical contributions: $5,000 on Aug. 31, 2011, and $7,000 on Jan. 17.

Boehm believes the system is unconstitutional because it disenfranchises independent voters who don’t participate in the primary election. “The slating convention is really the only significant event in that process.”

“This is like gerrymandering,” Boehm said. “Everybody hates it except for the people in control of it.”

The current system arose in the wake of the 1970s Watergate scandal when majority Republican judges were swept from office in a Democratic tide.

Indianapolis Bar Association President Scott Chinn said its board of directors recently resolved to push anew for reforming the Marion County judicial election and selection process.

Chinn said the IndyBar wants an open discussion that would welcome a variety of opinions about what reform might look like.


chinn Chinn

“I believe it’s a critically important conversation to have, frankly, because so many people want to have it,” Chinn said. “It’s also going to create tension and heartache. We’re really trying to convene all the points of view and not be strident about any one system being better than the other.”

In a 2009 IndyBar survey, 83.4 percent of responding members said they favored nonpartisan merit selection and retention elections over the current system.

The party line

Marion County’s Democratic and Republican party chairmen agree on two things. They deny slating fees for judicial candidates exist, and they are suspicious of efforts to change the system.

The Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications in 1992 issued an advisory opinion on slating fees and whether they violate Canon 7 of the Code of Judicial Conduct. The guidance essentially said voluntary contributions to political parties were allowed, but not slating fees or assessments.


treacy-ed-mug Treacy

“Judges who are elected in public elections with competing candidates may contribute to political parties and organizations. No judge may pay an assessment, slating fee, or similar mandatory political payment,” the commission concluded.

“There is no official slating mechanism and there’s no slating process,” said county Democratic Chairman Edward T. Treacy. He said candidates for judge who paid $13,100 a piece to the party before the convention did so voluntarily as their share of the county party’s expense. “That money gets spent on those races.”

“It’s an absolutely unfair argument,” Republican Party Chairman Kyle Walker said of accusations that the $12,000 contributed by each GOP candidate who was slated represents a pay-to-play system. “Judges don’t buy into this system. They’re asked to make a contribution to cover the costs of the convention” and support from the party, he said.

Treacy and Walker also agree that if the system in Marion County were changed, costs of judicial elections would soar.

“One has only to look at how much is spent on any other campaign in Marion County that is countywide and high-profile,” Walker said. In the current system, “far, far less is raised and spent on judicial election … by orders of magnitude.”

“This is a heck of a lot cheaper way,” Treacy said.

“The only groups that seem to be dissatisfied with this process seems to be the bar,” Walker said. “They themselves want to have more political influence over who the judges are in Marion County.”

“I think this is a lot better system to have than to have a whole bunch of lawyers sitting there deciding who the judges are. I would rather have democracy working at its best,” said Treacy, whose wife, Rebekah Pierson-Treacy, is a Marion Superior judge running for re-election in November.

Against the slate

Candidates who run for Marion Superior judge but haven’t contributed at the $12,000 to $13,100 levels aren’t just at a disadvantage. They sometimes find their own party campaigning against them.

Democrat Greg Bowes ran for Marion Superior judge in 2012. A former Indianapolis city-county councilman and county assessor who also unsuccessfully ran for prosecutor, Bowes said he’s run as a slated and non-slated candidate in the past.

He didn’t make a big contribution to the party this cycle, and he didn’t make the slate at the party convention. He wound up 11th in primary voting among 12 candidates for 10 judgeships. He said volunteers passed out “voting guides” at the polls illustrating a ballot with votes for the 10 slated candidates. The phrase “not recommended” appeared next to his name and the name of another non-slated candidate.

“This is the effect of the slating money,” Bowes said. “Using that money against your own party’s candidates doesn’t help strengthen your own party.”

A non-slated Republican judicial candidate, Paul Ogden, asked the Judicial Qualifications Commission in a letter before last year’s slating convention to revisit its advisory opinion on contributions and slating fees for judicial candidates. The commission declined to revisit its advisory opinion, but responded with a letter that concluded:

“Some of the factors the Commission believes are important to evaluate when considering whether a payment is voluntary include the timing of the payment, particularly if it must be paid by a certain time, such as before a slating convention; whether anyone from the political party communicated to the judicial candidate that the payment is expected; and whether the amount contributed by all judicial candidates during an election cycle is the same.”

Meantime, the amount that judicial candidates give to their parties continues to rise. The parties this year received more than $250,000. Since 1998, the total amount judges who won primaries this year have contributed to their parties is at least $392,000 to the county Republican Central Committee and $395,000 to the Democratic Central Committee, according to Election Division records.

Bowes is among many who say no system for judicial selection is without problems.

“I just know it ain’t working right now,” he said.•


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  • Reposting: IBA's Support of the Slate
    It didn't like the paragraphs I used and ran everything together. Let me try again to make it more readable. . I certainly applaud Scott Chinn, President of the Indianapolis Bar Association, for welcoming reform of the judicial selection process in Marion County. However, he deserves criticism for not putting a stop to the IBA's PAC, the Judicial Excellence Political Action Committee, which uses a survey process to protect the slated judicial candidates and deride anyone who challenges it. . JEPAC's surveys are what we in the political business call a "self-selecting" poll, a poll in which you can choose or not choose to participate. They are notriously inaccurate and subject to easy manipulation. They are especially useless when used to rate the judicial abilities of candidates who have never sat on the bench but who are challenging the slate. . The survey system is easily manipulated to target non-slated candidates for negative reviews. Attorneys at the big law firms (which get a lot of contract work from the local political parties and want to protect the status quo) simply get together to send in negative surveys on any attorney who challenges the slate. Those big firms have hundreds of attorneys. It's not difficult to manufacture a negative survey result on a candidate when there may only be afew hundred surveys returned. (In my case below, I only had 116 surveys returned.) . I knew the JEPAC survey process was rigged, so when I ran for the Republican nomination for judge in 2012, I deliberately chose not to participate in the survey. After all, other candidates had been allowed to opt out of the survey. Out of the blue, I got a call from the IBA asking for information about me for its website. I provided the info. Then they told me they were going to use the information to do a survey on me, months after the deadline. I would never have provided the info if they had told me that was the intended use. I told them I did not want to be involved in the survey. The chairman of JEPAC said the survey would be conducted anyway. . The chairman of JEPAC is active in the Republican Party, contributing money to establishment GOP candidates. I was challenging the Republican slate and refusing to pay a slating fee to the GOP county chairman because it violated the ethical rules. I knew exactly why JEPAC's chairman had reopened the survey. The intent was to organize to get surveys sent in trashing me, then use the negative result in advertising against me. That's exactly what happened. . I received an 18% approval, which I believe is far and away the lowest score anyone has ever received, a score 1/3 of the lowest Republican slated judge candidate, also a non-incumbent. Did I deserve a negative rating from 82% of the respondents? I've worked in every branch of governmrment, been an attorney for 25 years, never been disciplined, practiced in virtually every court in Marion County doing civil and criminal cases, served as a Deputy Attorney General and clerked at the Indiana Court of Appeals for 3 1/2 years. I would put my qualifications up against any non-incumbent judidical candidate on either the Republican or Democratic slate. Clearly the surveys were about the IBA's JEPAC, on behalf of a local Republican leadership, delliberately using the system to get an unqualified rating to use against me in a political campaign. . Again, I applaud IBA for doing this. But the Chinn and the IBA also needs to consider their own role, via JEPAC and its surveys, in promoting the slate and running down anyone who challenges it. The survey process needs to be ended and JEPAC disbanded.

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  1. YES I WENT THROUGH THIS BEFORE IN A DIFFERENT SITUATION WITH MY YOUNGEST SON PEOPLE NEED TO LEAVE US ALONE WITH DCS IF WE ARE NOT HURTING OR NEGLECT OUR CHILDREN WHY ARE THEY EVEN CALLED OUT AND THE PEOPLE MAKING FALSE REPORTS NEED TO GO TO JAIL AND HAVE A CLASS D FELONY ON THERE RECORD TO SEE HOW IT FEELS. I WENT THREW ALOT WHEN HE WAS TAKEN WHAT ELSE DOES THESE SCHOOL WANT ME TO SERVE 25 YEARS TO LIFE ON LIES THERE TELLING OR EVEN LE SAME THING LIED TO THE COUNTY PROSECUTOR JUST SO I WOULD GET ARRESTED AND GET TIME HE THOUGHT AND IT TURNED OUT I DID WHAT I HAD TO DO NOT PROUD OF WHAT HAPPEN AND SHOULD KNOW ABOUT SEEKING MEDICAL ATTENTION FOR MY CHILD I AM DISABLED AND SICK OF GETTING TREATED BADLY HOW WOULD THEY LIKE IT IF I CALLED APS ON THEM FOR A CHANGE THEN THEY CAN COME AND ARREST THEM RIGHT OUT OF THE SCHOOL. NOW WE ARE HOMELESS AND THE CHILDREN ARE STAYING WITH A RELATIVE AND GUARDIAN AND THE SCHOOL WON'T LET THEM GO TO SCHOOL THERE BUT WANT THEM TO GO TO SCHOOL WHERE BULLYING IS ALLOWED REAL SMART THINKING ON A SCHOOL STAFF.

  2. Family court judges never fail to surprise me with their irrational thinking. First of all any man who abuses his wife is not fit to be a parent. A man who can't control his anger should not be allowed around his child unsupervised period. Just because he's never been convicted of abusing his child doesn't mean he won't and maybe he hasn't but a man that has such poor judgement and control is not fit to parent without oversight - only a moron would think otherwise. Secondly, why should the mother have to pay? He's the one who made the poor decisions to abuse and he should be the one to pay the price - monetarily and otherwise. Yes it's sad that the little girl may be deprived of her father, but really what kind of father is he - the one that abuses her mother the one that can't even step up and do what's necessary on his own instead the abused mother is to pay for him???? What is this Judge thinking? Another example of how this world rewards bad behavior and punishes those who do right. Way to go Judge - NOT.

  3. Right on. Legalize it. We can take billions away from the drug cartels and help reduce violence in central America and more unwanted illegal immigration all in one fell swoop. cut taxes on the savings from needless incarcerations. On and stop eroding our fourth amendment freedom or whatever's left of it.

  4. "...a switch from crop production to hog production "does not constitute a significant change."??? REALLY?!?! Any judge that cannot see a significant difference between a plant and an animal needs to find another line of work.

  5. Why do so many lawyers get away with lying in court, Jamie Yoak?

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