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UPDATE: Committee tweaking St. Joe judges bill

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Updated at 4:30 p.m.
A legislative conference committee is debating what changes might be possible for a bill aimed at scrapping merit selection for St. Joseph Superior judges. Discussions today focused on keeping judicial elections non-partisan, delaying the creation of a new appellate panel by six months, possibly removing a part about political contribution restrictions, and adding language to allow city or town courts to use interlocal agreements for ordinance violations.

The conference committee met at 3:30 p.m. in the Indiana Statehouse to discuss House Bill 1491, which was authored by Rep. Craig Fry, R-Mishawaka, and has gotten support from both sides of the legislature this session.

While a meeting Wednesday included discussion of possibly setting up partisan elections rather than non-partisan contests as originally intended, that didn't come up today. Fry assured committee members that the elections would be similar to school board contests and the top two primary candidates would be put on the general election ballot in November.

Another issue was the Senate amendment that would create a sixth Court of Appeals panel starting in 2011 - an item not in the original House bill. The Senate-approved bill calls for that panel to begin Jan. 1, 2011, but lawmakers are now discussing pushing that to July 1, 2011 so it won't impact this current two-year budget. House Speaker Rep. Pat Bauer, D-South Bend, wants that change, Fry said.

Also, Rep. Eric Koch, R-Bedford, worried about the bill's provision capping and restricting campaign contributions for any judicial candidates. He said legislators are prohibited from capping contributions for individuals, and he's worried that language capping money from "all sources" at $10,000 might not clearly consider that and might favor independently wealthy judicial candidates. Koch suggested taking that part out all together.

The committee also proposed adding the court interlocal agreement language from House Bill 1703, which had passed the House but didn't make it to a Senate vote.

No decisions were made today. The conference committee plans to circulate copies of its draft report this week so legislators can discuss them with their party leadership before coming together early next week to sign that report. The General Assembly faces an April 29 deadline to pass legislation and forward it to Gov. Mitch Daniels for consideration.

Original post:

St. Joseph Superior judges would be chosen by voters in partisan elections rather than non-partisan contests under a change discussed by a legislative conference committee Wednesday. More amendments for House Bill 1491 could be debated or voted on today, during a 3:30 p.m. public conference committee meeting at the Indiana Statehouse.

Aimed at ending the merit-selection and retention system that's been in place in St. Joseph County since 1973, HB 1491 is on the verge of passage by lawmakers in the final week of the legislative session. Rep. Craig Fry, R-Mishawaka, is the original author and was joined by Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, as a sponsor in the Senate. The Senate voted 35-15 in favor of it last week, and the House had overwhelmingly supported it in February.

But because the bill's been amended to also create a new three-judge panel for the Indiana Court of Appeals, it's now being hammered out in conference committee after the House dissented from that part of the bill earlier this week. The House has named two conferees: Fry and Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-Elkhart, who attached an amendment in February restricting and capping campaign contributions for judicial candidates. Senate conferees named Wednesday are Charbonneau and Sen. Jim Arnold, D-LaPorte. House advisors are Reps. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington; Charlie Brown, D-Gary; Ralph Foley, R-Martinsville; and Eric Koch, R-Bedford. Senate advisors are Richard Bray, R-Martinsville, and Tim Lenane, D-Anderson.

The first and what was initially expected to be the only public conference committee meeting was Wednesday, a day when many opponents of the legislation were attending a St. Joseph County Bar Association event in South Bend where retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor spoke in favor of merit selection. More than 500 people, mostly attorneys and judges, attended the lunchtime event.

This morning a second hearing was scheduled, according to Indiana State Bar Association President Bill Jonas, a South Bend attorney who is closely monitoring the legislation. He said that second hearing isn't required, and he didn't know if it was added because of the conflict with Wednesday's event. An amendment discussed Wednesday would change the nature of the judicial elections, according to ISBA legislative counsel Page Felts, who attended the hearing. The original bill would have established non-partisan elections, a system that Allen and Vanderburgh counties currently use. The remaining 88 Hoosier counties use partisan elections.

Felts said that during the hearing, Lake County's representative Brown echoed his previous comments about wanting a consistent system for the entire state. Nothing was attached involving Lake County at this point, she said. Brown has already publicly stated that he plans to introduce legislation in the next session to scrap merit selection in Lake County. If a compromise is reached before the April 29 deadline, the legislation could be forwarded to the governor for review. Gov. Mitch Daniels, an attorney himself who has been a proponent of Indiana's merit-selection system, would have the final decision to approve or veto the bill if it reaches his desk. His office has declined to comment on this legislation during the session.

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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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