The Indiana Supreme Court has refused to sidestep the state’s intermediate appellate court on a judicial election issue from Lake County, which involves a prospect for the bench being able to stay on the ballot.
Emergency requests with the state justices are being filed in the case of Michael Lambert v. William I Fine, No. 49A04-1009-PL00556, which stems from an Indiana Election Commission decision in early September that took Highland attorney and Lake Circuit candidate William Fine off the ballot for November’s general election. The four-member commission deadlocked and effectively found that the county Republican Party chair didn’t have the authority to appoint Fine as the Republican candidate for the Circuit seat opening at year’s end. That left voters with only one choice – Merrillville Town Judge George Paras who won the Democratic primary in May to replace retiring Lake Circuit Judge Lorenzo Arredondo.
A Marion County judge reversed that election commission decision on Sept. 13 and granted a temporary restraining order, and late last week issued a final order that stops the state from keeping Fine off the Nov. 2 ballot. Judge Keele noted that no basis in law exists to interpret state party rules in a way to override a statute and that the election commission doesn’t have the subject matter jurisdiction to endorse state party rules, let alone at the expense of a statutory grant of power to a county chair.
Fine’s challenger Michael Lambert, a local town council member who argues that a party caucus should have been held to choose the Republican candidate, filed an appeal with the Court of Appeals on Sept. 17. That same day he filed an emergency motion for the Supreme Court to take jurisdiction because of the public importance at issue.
Justices declined that initial request Tuesday, refusing to take the appeal away from the appellate court at this point. After Marion Superior Judge Michael Keele issued a final order on his earlier decision this month, Lambert filed a renewed motion for emergency jurisdiction under Appellate Rule 56(A) and that remained pending as of this morning. Fine’s legal team has filed a motion to dismiss.
Timing is important in this appeal as absentee ballots were mailed in mid-September, and the decisions in this case impact what choices voters have in deciding who the next Lake Circuit judge will be.