Senate gets St. Joe judges bill, with twist

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The full Indiana Senate will consider in the next week whether St. Joseph Superior judges should be elected or merit-selected and retained by voters. A Senate committee wants the full legislative body to consider that issue, but with a twist: An amendment has been attached to the controversial House Bill 1491.

The legislation now addresses the selection issue, but also calls for creating a new, sixth panel for the Indiana Court of Appeals. That topic had been addressed by other legislation that has been passed by the Senate but hasn't received a House committee hearing, and will likely die in the coming week. Now, it has new life and would implement the new three-judge panel in 2011.

The Senate Judiciary Committee considered HB 1491 this morning and, after a 30-minute debate, voted 6-5 in favor of the legislation with the one appellate court amendment. The committee voted 7-4 to add that amendment. Three other amendments proposed during last week's committee meeting were withdrawn, including the one that would have made all Lake Superior judges be merit-selected rather than the hybrid merit/election system currently in place. This means the legislation now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

"We are sad about this vote and just feel so incredibly strong that this isn't right," said St. Joseph County Bar Association President Carl Greci, who opposes the bill along with colleagues and the Indiana State Bar Association. "We've been blessed for 35 years to have merit selection, and believe it's the best method to use for selecting judges."

Today, six senators voted in favor of it and five voted against it. All but two of the legislators supporting the change are attorneys. Voting against the bill were Sens. John Broden, D-South Bend; Tim Lanane, D-Anderson; Teresa Lubbers, R-Indianapolis; Lonnie Randolph, D-East Chicago; and Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis.
In opposing the legislation, Taylor pointed out he was specifically against the Court of Appeals amendment being attached because he didn't feel the two were related and should be dealt with separately.

Sen. Richard Bray, R-Martinsville, the committee chairman who also chairs the summer interim Commission on Courts that had opposed the measure, cast the deciding vote. He hesitated and weighed the split before making his decision, then grimaced as he voted yes to pass it to the full Senate. After adjournment, the senator pointed to his opposition in the Commission on Courts but said he wanted all his colleagues in the Senate to have a chance to weigh the important issue and vote for or against it.

Broden, who is also a South Bend attorney, explained his vote.

"In my support of merit selection, I'm in no way suggesting any inferiority of elected judges. I support it on a fundamental belief in a free and independent judiciary," he said. "It's bodies like us who voice the will of the populous. We stand for elections and we hear the passions of the people and represent them. The judiciary is meant to be a check on that. People's passions aren't always looking out for the rights of other people, and courts must do that."

Explaining his vote in favor of the bill, Sen. Joseph C. Zakas, R-Granger, said it's obvious that the merit-selection method just hasn't caught on for trial courts since being implemented in Lake and St. Joseph counties more than three decades ago. People in those two counties have the most at stake and should be able to decide how to choose their judges.

Indiana State Bar Association President Bill Jonas, a St. Joseph County attorney, had spoken at the meeting and also was disappointed in the committee vote. The ISBA will continue advocating for merit selection, and he said a long-term effort for statewide merit selection might have to take more priority given this legislation's quick path through the legislature.

The Senate will likely take the bill up in the coming days, with a time for amendments possible before the third reading deadline on April 15. Since the bill has now been amended in committee, it would have to go back through the House voting process if approved by the Senate. If no agreement can be reached on the amended version, then a conference committee would have to negotiate before the April 29 legislative deadline for this session.


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  1. Lori, you must really love wedding cake stories like this one ... happy enuf ending for you?

  2. This new language about a warning has not been discussed at previous meetings. It's not available online. Since it must be made public knowledge before the vote, does anyone know exactly what it says? Further, this proposal was held up for 5 weeks because members Carol and Lucy insisted that all terms used be defined. So now, definitions are unnecessary and have not been inserted? Beyond these requirements, what is the logic behind giving one free pass to discriminators? Is that how laws work - break it once and that's ok? Just don't do it again? Three members of Carmel's council have done just about everything they can think of to prohibit an anti-discrimination ordinance in Carmel, much to Brainard's consternation, I'm told. These three 'want to be so careful' that they have failed to do what at least 13 other communities, including Martinsville, have already done. It's not being careful. It's standing in the way of what 60% of Carmel residents want. It's hurting CArmel in thT businesses have refused to locate because the council has not gotten with the program. And now they want to give discriminatory one free shot to do so. Unacceptable. Once three members leave the council because they lost their races, the Carmel council will have unanimous approval of the ordinance as originally drafted, not with a one free shot to discriminate freebie. That happens in January 2016. Why give a freebie when all we have to do is wait 3 months and get an ordinance with teeth from Day 1? If nothing else, can you please get s copy from Carmel and post it so we can see what else has changed in the proposal?

  3. Here is an interesting 2012 law review article for any who wish to dive deeper into this subject matter: Excerpt: "Judicial interpretation of the ADA has extended public entity liability to licensing agencies in the licensure and certification of attorneys.49 State bar examiners have the authority to conduct fitness investigations for the purpose of determining whether an applicant is a direct threat to the public.50 A “direct threat” is defined as “a significant risk to the health or safety of others that cannot be eliminated by a modification of policies, practices or procedures, or by the provision of auxiliary aids or services as provided by § 35.139.”51 However, bar examiners may not utilize generalizations or stereotypes about the applicant’s disability in concluding that an applicant is a direct threat.52"

  4. We have been on the waiting list since 2009, i was notified almost 4 months ago that we were going to start receiving payments and we still have received nothing. Every time I call I'm told I just have to wait it's in the lawyers hands. Is everyone else still waiting?

  5. I hope you dont mind but to answer my question. What amendment does this case pretain to?