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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. 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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