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SCOTUS recusal ruling cited in judicial-canon case

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A federal judge in Fort Wayne is deciding whether the state's judicial conduct code should be able to restrict judicial candidates from answering surveys about views on issues they might someday hear in court.

Now, a recent ruling from the Supreme Court of the United States is being used in that federal case to delve further into what states should be allowed to do in order to balance free speech with possible perceptions of bias on the bench.

The judicial-speech case is Torrey Bauer, et al. v. Randall T. Shepard, et al., No. 3:08-CV-196, which stems from a survey the non-profit Indiana Right to Life Committee sent to judicial candidates asking them pre-election to state their views about policies and court decisions related to abortion, euthanasia, and other issues. Most declined to reply to the survey, citing an advisory opinion from the Indiana Judicial Qualifications Commission that warned judicial candidates against making "broad statements on disputed social and legal issues."

But deciding the rule goes too far and infringes on candidates' First and 14th amendments, the committee sued in April 2008 on behalf of Torrey Bauer, an attorney who was a candidate for Kosciusko Superior Court, and Marion Superior Judge David Certo, who at the time was a judicial candidate running for the first time after being appointed by the governor in 2007 to fill a vacancy.

Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard is named as the lead defendant because he chairs the Indiana Judicial Qualifications Commission.

Both sides filed newly amended complaints and responses earlier this year as a result of the state adopting a revised judicial code in January. Both sides have filed motions for summary judgment, and the case remains open pending a summary judgment decision from U.S. District Judge Theresa L Springmann in Fort Wayne.

But in the past week, attorneys have filed briefs citing the June 8 decision of Hugh M. Caperton, et al. v. A.T. Massey Coal Co., Inc., No. 08-22, pointing to it as possible authority for the court to consider in its ongoing case. In that landmark 5-4 ruling, the SCOTUS held that elected judges must recuse themselves in cases involving interested parties or litigants who've made large campaign contributions that might create an appearance of bias, because those donations could be perceived to deny litigants of their due process rights.

Counsel for the Indiana Judicial Nominating Commission filed a five-page notice of supplemental authority June 18, saying the Caperton decision supports its canons designed to ensure due process through judicial open-mindedness.

On Tuesday, Terre Haute attorney Jim Bopp filed a response on behalf of his clients, saying the case doesn't apply. That SCOTUS ruling applied only to "an exceptional case," and not others such as this case, Bopp wrote. He also noted that a state can adopt as rigorous a recusal standard as it likes, so as long as it doesn't run afoul of the U.S. Constitution.

"Thus, a State could not require judges to recuse themselves in all cases because they belong to a particular political party, nor can they require recusal simply because a judge has announced her views on a disputed legal or political issue," the plaintiffs' response says.

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  1. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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