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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 Three other amendments proposed during last week's committee meeting were withdrawn, including the one that would have made all Lake Superior judges be merit-selected rather than the hybrid merit/election system currently in place.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. 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.

  2. 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

  3. 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

  4. 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

  5. Here's an idea...how about we MORE heavily regulate the law schools to reduce the surplus of graduates, driving starting salaries up for those new grads, so that we can all pay our insane amount of student loans off in a reasonable amount of time and then be able to afford to do pro bono & low-fee work? I've got friends in other industries, radiology for example, and their schools accept a very limited number of students so there will never be a glut of new grads and everyone's pay stays high. For example, my radiologist friend's school accepted just six new students per year.

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