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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 Three other amendments proposed during last week's committee meeting were withdrawn, including the one that would have made all Lake Superior judges be merit-selected rather than the hybrid merit/election system currently in place.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. Indiana's seatbelt law is not punishable as a crime. It is an infraction. Apparently some of our Circuit judges have deemed settled law inapplicable if it fails to fit their litmus test of political correctness. Extrapolating to redefine terms of behavior in a violation of immigration law to the entire body of criminal law leaves a smorgasbord of opportunity for judicial mischief.

  2. I wonder if $10 diversions for failure to wear seat belts are considered moral turpitude in federal immigration law like they are under Indiana law? Anyone know?

  3. What a fine article, thank you! I can testify firsthand and by detailed legal reports (at end of this note) as to the dire consequences of rejecting this truth from the fine article above: "The inclusion and expansion of this right [to jury] in Indiana’s Constitution is a clear reflection of our state’s intention to emphasize the importance of every Hoosier’s right to make their case in front of a jury of their peers." Over $20? Every Hoosier? Well then how about when your very vocation is on the line? How about instead of a jury of peers, one faces a bevy of political appointees, mini-czars, who care less about due process of the law than the real czars did? Instead of trial by jury, trial by ideological ordeal run by Orwellian agents? Well that is built into more than a few administrative law committees of the Ind S.Ct., and it is now being weaponized, as is revealed in articles posted at this ezine, to root out post moderns heresies like refusal to stand and pledge allegiance to all things politically correct. My career was burned at the stake for not so saluting, but I think I was just one of the early logs. Due, at least in part, to the removal of the jury from bar admission and bar discipline cases, many more fires will soon be lit. Perhaps one awaits you, dear heretic? Oh, at that Ind. article 12 plank about a remedy at law for every damage done ... ah, well, the founders evidently meant only for those damages done not by the government itself, rabid statists that they were. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) My written reports available here: Denied petition for cert (this time around): http://tinyurl.com/zdmawmw Denied petition for cert (from the 2009 denial and five year banishment): http://tinyurl.com/zcypybh Related, not written by me: Amicus brief: http://tinyurl.com/hvh7qgp

  4. Justice has finally been served. So glad that Dr. Ley can finally sleep peacefully at night knowing the truth has finally come to the surface.

  5. While this right is guaranteed by our Constitution, it has in recent years been hampered by insurance companies, i.e.; the practice of the plaintiff's own insurance company intervening in an action and filing a lien against any proceeds paid to their insured. In essence, causing an additional financial hurdle for a plaintiff to overcome at trial in terms of overall award. In a very real sense an injured party in exercise of their right to trial by jury may be the only party in a cause that would end up with zero compensation.

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