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Panel: 1 judge remains, another off ballot

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The Indiana Election Commission has pulled one Lake County judicial candidate off the ballot because of how the political process put him into the race, while a controversial incumbent Allen Superior judge remains on the ballot despite arguments that his disciplinary history should keep him off.

At a four-hour meeting Thursday afternoon in Indianapolis, the four-member election commission took sweeping action that influences the upcoming Nov. 2 general election. One decision translates into a determination that incumbent judges aren’t held to the same standards as attorneys who might run for the bench, while the other paves the way for a likely court case on who can be in the race to replace the longtime Lake Circuit judge.

The two agenda items included judicial candidacy questions involving Allen Superior Judge Ken Scheibenberger and Lake Circuit judicial prospect William I. Fine.

A group of 12 residents argued Judge Scheibenberger should be removed from the ballot because he’s been disciplined by the Indiana Supreme Court, via the Judicial Qualifications Commission, and that makes him ineligible for the ballot. The Supreme Court last year suspended the longtime judge for three days without pay because of his conduct in late 2007, when he went into another judge’s courtroom wearing his robe for a sentencing hearing and verbally accosted the family of a defendant he suspected had been connected to his son’s drug-related death a year before. The justices determined his behavior was that of a grieving parent.

Opponents wanting the judge removed from the ballot used that history and IC 33-33-2-10(3), which states that judicial candidates may not have had “any disciplinary sanction imposed …by the supreme court disciplinary commission of Indiana or any similar body in another state.” They argued it applies to judges, while Judge Scheibenberger and his legal team contended that it’s a term of art not applicable to incumbent judges.

Jeff Arnold, a lawyer speaking on behalf of the challengers, said the statute used the disciplinary commission as a general term since it wasn’t capitalized and should also be read to encompass the judicial qualifications commission. He noted that if the commission reads that law closely, it technically does nothing at all because only the Supreme Court can sanction attorneys and judges.

But the judge’s attorney Robert Thompson said that phrase was a term of art and that the General Assembly knew exactly what it was doing to specifically craft a statute that draws a distinction between disciplined attorneys and judges. He said that wording was crafted because the Indiana Constitution specifically outlined the powers of the Judicial Qualifications Commission, and this statute wasn’t meant to usurp that higher authority.

“If they meant to include sitting judges, they would have included a sanction initiated by the Judicial Qualifications Commission,” he said. “You can’t construe it any way you want to. That’s not a good legal argument.”

Election commission member Anthony Long said the drafting error might mean the statute is ineffective but that “it wouldn’t be the first time,” and he doesn’t want to broaden the interpretation of a statute as it’s written. Other members echoed his concerns, and they encouraged residents to ask their legislators to clarify the statute if they have a concern.

With that unanimous 4-0 vote and dismissal, Judge Scheibenberger stays on the ballot to run for the seat he’s held since 1992. Fort Wayne attorneys Wendy Davis and Lewis Griffin are running against him for the judgeship.

But commissioners weren’t as agreeable in the other judicial candidacy case involving Highland attorney Fine, who is the Republican candidate for the Lake Circuit opening once Judge Lorenzo Arredondo leaves the bench later this year. Merrillville Town Judge George Paras won the Democratic primary in May and no Republican was on the primary ballot, so party chair Kim Krull named Fine to fill that ballot vacancy to run against Judge Paras. But some questioned his candidacy based on whether the party chair has the ability to name a candidate herself rather than the party doing so at a caucus.

Fine’s counsel wanted the commission to deny the challenge outright because they didn't believe the state board had jurisdiction to decide the matter, while the other side questioned the Republican Party rules and state statute allowing that practice. Fine’s attorney argued that a caucus in the Lake County matter wouldn't have been required because the Circuit Court covers only one county, and the caucus rule only extends to circuits covering more than one county.

Commission chair Dan Dumezich, a Chicago attorney and former Indiana lawmaker, said he disagreed with keeping Fine off the ballot because he believes Krull had the authority to put him there.

"Now he has to go to court," Dumezich said.
 

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  1. My daughter was taken from my home at the end of June/2014. I said I would sign the safety plan but my husband would not. My husband said he would leave the house so my daughter could stay with me but the case worker said no her mind is made up she is taking my daughter. My daughter went to a friends and then the friend filed a restraining order which she was told by dcs if she did not then they would take my daughter away from her. The restraining order was not in effect until we were to go to court. Eventually it was dropped but for 2 months DCS refused to allow me to have any contact and was using the restraining order as the reason but it was not in effect. This was Dcs violating my rights. Please help me I don't have the money for an attorney. Can anyone take this case Pro Bono?

  2. If justice is not found in a court room, it's time to clean house!!! Even judges are accountable to a higher Judge!!!

  3. The small claims system, based on my recent and current usage of it, is not exactly a shining example of justice prevailing. The system appears slow and clunky and people involved seem uninterested in actually serving justice within a reasonable time frame. Any improvement in accountability and performance would gain a vote from me. Speaking of voting, what do the people know about judges and justice from the bench perspective. I think they have a tendency to "vote" for judges based on party affiliation or name coolness factor (like Stoner, for example!). I don't know what to do in my current situation other than grin and bear it, but my case is an example of things working neither smoothly, effectively nor expeditiously. After this experience I'd pay more to have the higher courts hear the case -- if I had the money. Oh the conundrum.

  4. My dear Smith, I was beginning to fear, from your absense, that some Obrien of the Nanny State had you in Room 101. So glad to see you back and speaking truth to power, old chum.

  5. here is one from Reason magazine. these are not my words, but they are legitimate concerns. http://reason.com/blog/2010/03/03/fearmongering-at-the-splc quote: "The Southern Poverty Law Center, which would paint a box of Wheaties as an extremist threat if it thought that would help it raise funds, has issued a new "intelligence report" announcing that "an astonishing 363 new Patriot groups appeared in 2009, with the totals going from 149 groups (including 42 militias) to 512 (127 of them militias) -- a 244% jump." To illustrate how dangerous these groups are, the Center cites some recent arrests of right-wing figures for planning or carrying out violent attacks. But it doesn't demonstrate that any of the arrestees were a part of the Patriot milieu, and indeed it includes some cases involving racist skinheads, who are another movement entirely. As far as the SPLC is concerned, though, skinheads and Birchers and Glenn Beck fans are all tied together in one big ball of scary. The group delights in finding tenuous ties between the tendencies it tracks, then describing its discoveries in as ominous a tone as possible." --- I wonder if all the republicans that belong to the ISBA would like to know who and why this outfit was called upon to receive such accolades. I remember when they were off calling Trent Lott a bigot too. Preposterous that this man was brought to an overwhelmingly republican state to speak. This is a nakedly partisan institution and it was a seriously bad choice.

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