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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. The $320,000 is the amount the school spent in litigating two lawsuits: One to release the report involving John Trimble (as noted in the story above) and one defending the discrimination lawsuit. The story above does not mention the amount spent to defend the discrimination suit, that's why the numbers don't match. Thanks for reading.

  2. $160k? Yesterday the figure was $320k. Which is it Indiana Lawyer. And even more interesting, which well connected law firm got the (I am guessing) $320k, six time was the fired chancellor received. LOL. (From yesterday's story, which I guess we were expected to forget overnight ... "According to records obtained by the Journal & Courier, Purdue spent $161,812, beginning in July 2012, in a state open records lawsuit and $168,312, beginning in April 2013, for defense in a federal lawsuit. Much of those fees were spent battling court orders to release an independent investigation by attorney John Trimble that found Purdue could have handled the forced retirement better")

  3. The numbers are harsh; 66 - 24 in the House, 40 - 10 in the Senate. And it is an idea pushed by the Democrats. Dead end? Ummm not necessarily. Just need to go big rather than go home. Nuclear option. Give it to the federal courts, the federal courts will ram this down our throats. Like that other invented right of the modern age, feticide. Rights too precious to be held up by 2000 years of civilization hang in the balance. Onward!

  4. I'm currently seeing someone who has a charge of child pornography possession, he didn't know he had it because it was attached to a music video file he downloaded when he was 19/20 yrs old and fought it for years until he couldn't handle it and plead guilty of possession. He's been convicted in Illinois and now lives in Indiana. Wouldn't it be better to give them a chance to prove to the community and their families that they pose no threat? He's so young and now because he was being a kid and downloaded music at a younger age, he has to pay for it the rest of his life? It's unfair, he can't live a normal life, and has to live in fear of what people can say and do to him because of something that happened 10 years ago? No one deserves that, and no one deserves to be labeled for one mistake, he got labeled even though there was no intent to obtain and use the said content. It makes me so sad to see someone I love go through this and it makes me holds me back a lot because I don't know how people around me will accept him...second chances should be given to those under the age of 21 at least so they can be given a chance to live a normal life as a productive member of society.

  5. It's just an ill considered remark. The Sup Ct is inherently political, as it is a core part of government, and Marbury V Madison guaranteed that it would become ever more so Supremely thus. So her remark is meaningless and she just should have not made it.... what she could have said is that Congress is a bunch of lazys and cowards who wont do their jobs so the hard work of making laws clear, oftentimes stops with the Sups sorting things out that could have been resolved by more competent legislation. That would have been a more worthwhile remark and maybe would have had some relevance to what voters do, since voters cant affect who gets appointed to the supremely un-democratic art III courts.

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