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IndyBar: Changes In Marion County Courts And Other Observations

September 24, 2014

By The Hon. Tim Oakes, Marion Superior Court

Change

Forty years ago this year, the headlines in the Indianapolis Star read, “Demo ‘New Broom’ Sweeps GOP Off County Benches.” It was the post-Watergate election and voters let their thoughts be known through the ballot, not only here, but statewide and nationwide. Eight incumbent judges were thrown off the bench in the tidal wave, and Democrats won all 13 judgeships on the ballot that year. Names like Endsley, Tranberg, Barteau, Brewer, Jacobs, and yes, Zore and Chavis were swept into office. This would prompt a legislative change in how judges were selected. Many evidently believed the change (perceived by some to be a function of national politics versus judicial bench performance) was too much.

Similar, but not as dramatic, change is coming to the Marion County Superior Courts in January. The deadline for 2014 candidates passed June 30th. Since there are no independent challengers to those Superior Court judicial candidates elected in the Marion County primary, we know who will be leaving and who will be arriving on the bench in Jan. 2015.

Judges Ted Sosin, Patrick McCarty, Lou Rosenberg, David Shaheed and Gerald Zore are retiring. They have been great representatives of the Marion County judiciary for decades. Dave Cook has also done an outstanding job serving in Criminal Court 7 these past months.

P.J. Dietrick, Angela Dow-Davis, Shatrese Flowers, Christina Klineman and Marcel Pratt will take the bench Jan. 1, 2015. As such, new court assignments need to be made, and a timely decision allows for all interested parties to be informed in sufficient time to allow for, ideally, a smooth transition. The Marion County Executive Committee met Friday, Sept. 5, 2014, and pursuant to local rule and a vote, made the following court assignments beginning Jan. 2015:

Civil Court 1 – Heather Welch
Civil Court 2 – Tim Oakes
Civil Court 3 – Gary Miller
Civil Court 4 – Cynthia Ayers
Civil Court 5 – Robert Altice
Civil Court 6 – Tom Carroll
Civil Court 7 – Mike Keele
Civil Court 10 – David Dreyer
Civil Court 11 – John Hanley
Civil Court 12 – John Chavis
Civil Court 13 – James Joven
Civil Court 14 – Jim Osborn
Probate Court – Steve Eichholtz

In the Criminal Division, judges in the major felony courts 1 to 6 will remain the same with the exception of Shatrese Flowers being assigned to Major Felony Drug Court, Court 20.

The new judge assignments in the other criminal courts include:

Criminal Court 7 – Clayton Graham
Criminal Court 15 – Helen Marchal
Criminal Court 16 – Angela Dow-Davis
Criminal Court 17 – Christina Klineman
Criminal Court 21 – P.J. Dietrick
Traffic Court (13) – Marcel Pratt

Change can be frustrating and occasionally produce some anxiety, especially to lawyers and their clients. The Marion County bench has been in a period of transition since 2000 and has weathered the changes well. Of the judges who were on the bench in January 2000, only five will remain as of January 2015. (Can you name them? Hint: They will all be on a Civil Bench in January 2015.) Not since that election of 1974 has there been such a period of change on the Marion County bench. Some judges have moved on to different judicial roles – former Superior Court judges Bradford, Moberly, Stinson, and Pratt for example. Many have retired and some have lost elections during that time. Sadly, some have also passed away.

Though the Indiana Legislature did away with the mandatory retirement age of 75 for Indiana Trial Court judges recently, the list of Marion County judicial officers may look equally different in another 15 years. Whether only five of our current 36 are still around remains to be seen, but it is always possible.

Judicial Surveys

In researching these changes, I also was curious as to how incumbent judges have scored on the IndyBar judicial surveys over the years. The bar conducts surveys of its members on the performance of judicial officers and judicial candidates in the months prior to a judicial election. It is not a perfect system, nor, to my knowledge, does it represent itself to be. For example, candidates who are not incumbent judicial officers tend to score lower initially than they typically do after their first term on the bench. It remains doubtful that candidates suddenly become better at all the factors the survey measures merely because they ascended to the bench. As one Lake County Judicial Nominating Commission member recently said, “No one ever has their personality improved by being selected to serve on the bench. We can only hope it doesn’t become worse.” Thus, only surveys conducted of judicial officers after their first term were considered.

The spread of the IndyBar’s published surveys over the past 15 years has found them amazingly consistent. In short, most sitting judges have been rated well by those participating in the surveys. We now have slightly more sitting judges scoring above 90 percent on the recommended-to-serve portion than at any other time in the last 15 years. The difference is not that large to show a trend, but more of the Marion County judges are scoring above 90 percent recommended now than ever before.

While I have not reviewed judicial surveys in detail from around the country, I do have the opportunity, as part of my research for a law school seminar I co-teach with Professor Joel Schumm on Judicial Selection, to see and read many different articles from other states on judicial surveys by lawyers. I cannot recall seeing other surveys that rank their judges as well as the Marion County judiciary. There are always exceptions, but it is good to know that IndyBar surveys generally show that an increasing number of lawyers hold our Marion County judiciary in an increasingly favorable opinion.

There is always room for improvement. I personally welcome any constructive instruction on how we might better interact and work with lawyers and litigants to serve their needs, and I am confident most of my colleagues would agree.•

Third year Indiana University McKinney School of Law Student Joanne Rouse and second year McKinney Law Student Addison Bradford assisted in the research of this article.

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