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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. Indianapolis Bar Association President John Trimble and I are on the same page, but it is a very large page with plenty of room for others to join us. As my final Res Gestae article will express in more detail in a few days, the Great Recession hastened a fundamental and permanent sea change for the global legal service profession. Every state bar is facing the same existential questions that thrust the medical profession into national healthcare reform debates. The bench, bar, and law schools must comprehensively reconsider how we define the practice of law and what it means to access justice. If the three principals of the legal service profession do not recast the vision of their roles and responsibilities soon, the marketplace will dictate those roles and responsibilities without regard for the public interests that the legal profession professes to serve.

  2. I have met some highly placed bureaucrats who vehemently disagree, Mr. Smith. This is not your father's time in America. Some ideas are just too politically incorrect too allow spoken, says those who watch over us for the good of their concept of order.

  3. Lets talk about this without forgetting that Lawyers, too, have FREEDOM OF SPEECH AND ASSOCIATION

  4. Baer filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals Seventh Circuit on April 30 2015. When will this be decided? How many more appeals does this guy have? Unbelievable this is dragging on like this.

  5. They ruled there is no absolute right to keep a license, whether it be for a lifetime or a short period of time. So with that being said, this state taught me at the age of 15 how to obtain that license. I am actually doing something that I was taught to do, I'm not breaking the law breaking the rules and according to the Interstate Compact the National Interstate Compact...driving while suspended is a minor offense. So, do with that what you will..Indiana sucks when it comes to the driving laws, they really and truly need to reevaluate their priorities and honestly put the good of the community first... I mean, what's more important the pedophile drug dealer or wasting time and money to keep us off the streets?

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