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Panel names 3 Tax Court judge finalists

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After a morning of interviews with seven semi-finalists, the Indiana Judicial Nominating Commission has recommended three names for the governor to consider in choosing the state’s next Tax Court judge.

Commission members deliberated for about 90 minutes before reaching a decision just before 2 p.m., choosing Bloomington attorney Joby Jerrells, Hendricks Superior 3 Judge Karen Love, and Martha Wentworth of Greenwood as finalists to recommend to Gov. Mitch Daniels. The others interviewed today were: George Angelone, Dan Carwile, Hon. Carol Comer, and Melony Sacopulos.

Four women and three men came before the commission for the 25-minute second round of interviews, with only one break in between each group. These followed an initial round on Sept. 27 with 14 applicants, and delved more in-depth into each person’s backgrounds and what they think about the Tax Court.



The commission had submitted a question to each semi-finalist, asking them to reflect on how the tax judge might contribute to the development of the state’s jurisprudence and to the improvement of the overall judiciary.

“All the candidates have experience that gives us the core competency and intellect, which is good news for this commission and the state,” said banking attorney Carwile from Evansville.

Most of the semi-finalists discussed public access and transparency and making sure the tax court has the most efficient operation, so that its cases move through as quickly as possible and the public understands what is happening. Some offered thoughts on issues they see facing the court in coming years, and ways their own backgrounds and experiences would be beneficial for the court and judiciary.

Jerrells, a second-career attorney admitted in 2003 who works both as a deputy prosecutor in the Attorney General’s Office and is also a self-employed attorney out of his home in Bloomington, talked about his experience in all types of law. If chosen, he’d be interested in trying to “refine, hone, and improve” the jurisprudence that has been created during the past quarter century. An electronic docket would be beneficial for that court’s efficiency, and he also said he’d want to make sure pro se litigants understood the process. Responding to a question about the structure of how appeals come from the Department of Revenue, Jerrells told members that the issue is “brewing” and that the discretion given by the Tax Court to those state agency decisions might need to be examined, possibly by a rule or statute. He also said timeliness should be examined and efficiency should be improved if necessary, particularly since there’s no “lazy judge” rule as exists for state trial courts.

As the only trial judge interviewed, Judge Love said the tax judge’s responsibility is to provide “timely and affordable justice for all” and that her experience on the bench since 1995 has prepared her for this role on the administrative and legal and judiciary sides. She hopes the tax court judge can help Indiana become a leader in tax law just like it is known nationally for jury reform.

In addition to her judicial career, she’s also practiced privately, worked as a certified accountant and through the years has helped draft the state’s Child Support Guidelines.

One commission member said that he was impressed with her writing, and Judge Love noted that she’s learned from the lawyers and other jurists throughout the state. “I’m a product of the legal profession, the judiciary in Indiana,” she said. “I want you to see what trial judges are like, and I want to make them proud.”

Wentworth echoed many of the aspects that her fellow semi-finalists pointed out, and noted that she’d spent time during the past month reading State of the Judiciary speeches to get an idea of how the Hoosier judiciary has progressed through the years. Now as tax director for the multi-state group Deloitte Tax LLP, Wentworth has previously served in roles that included clerking for the Tax Court in the early 1990s and has worked closely through the years with the state Department of Revenue. Her experience shows that she’s advocated for continuing education and professionalism and collegiality, she said.

Saying that judges must be careful in communicating with lawmakers, she said it would be appropriate to help the legislature understand what possible unintended consequences might result from state statute changes. Wentworth said the state faces so many intriguing and challenging legal questions on tax law, such as what is considered distortion on taxes, the amount of discretion the DOR has in allowing separate corporate entities to file separate or joint returns, and how the state agency can discretionarily change federal taxable income.

Now, with those three chosen as finalists, the commission will submit a report to the governor’s office and he’ll have 60 days to make a decision. Whoever is appointed will succeed Judge Thomas G. Fisher, who is retiring at year’s end after 24 years of service on the court that was first created in 1986.
 

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