7th Circuit affirms decision not to hold special election for judges

September 22, 2016

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed a district court’s decision not to order a special election for Marion County Superior judges after two candidates for judge said their names were unconstitutionally kept off of the general election ballot.

During the May 2014 Indiana primary election, 16 positions were open on the Marion Superior Court.  Among the 19 primary candidates seeking election to those positions were Gregory Bowes and Christopher Starkey, who spent almost no effort campaigning, finished poorly in the race and did not advance to the general election, according to the 7th Circuit Court.

In the midst of the May 2014 primary, the case of Common Cause Indiana v. Individual Members of the Indiana Election Commission was pending. That case challenged the constitutionality of Indiana’s method of electing Marion Superior Court judges under which a political party could not nominate through the primary election process more than half of the candidates eligible to sit on the Marion Superior Court.

Four days before the primary, Starkey filed a motion in the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Indiana to intervene in the Common Cause case and requested an injunction requiring his placement on the general election ballot, a motion that was denied by a magistrate judge. In August 2014, Bowes joined Starkey and once again filed injunctive relief to be placed on the general election ballot.

In October 2014, the district court resolved the Common Cause case and found that Indiana’s method of election Marion Superior Court judges was unconstitutional, which was affirmed by the 7th Circuit nearly a year later. Then on Nov. 7, three days after the general election, Starkey and Bowes filed a new motion asking the court to void the results of the general election for judge of the Marion Superior Court and order the Secretary of State’s office to hold a special election.  The plaintiffs’ request called for the 16 Superior Court judges who were elected in the 2014 general election to be unseated to allow for a special election in the Nov. 8, 2016, general election.

Both Starkey and Bowes and the Secretary of State’s office filed for summary judgment, and the district judge granted summary judgment in favor of the Secretary of State and refused to order the special election, prompting Starkey and Bowe to appeal.

In its affirmation of the district court’s decision, the 7th Circuit Court wrote Wednesday that Starkey and Bowes’ request for injunctive relief was untimely, considering that their joint motion was filed three months before the general election, and then an amended motion was filed nine days after early voting in the general election had begun.

“Though plaintiffs’ efforts may not be egregiously late … plaintiffs in general must act quickly once they become aware of a constitutional violation, so as not to disrupt an upcoming election process,” the circuit court wrote.

The 7th Circuit Court also found that the district court was correct when it decided that holding a special election would greatly burden Marion County, writing that if a special election were held, the state would have to take steps to specify an election process for Indiana to use in that election, or order that the state enact a new constitutional process right away.

Further, the circuit court wrote that holding a special election in the judiciary would be “highly disruptive to the administration of justice.”

The case is Gregory Bowes and Christopher K. Starkey v. Indiana Secretary of State, et al., 16?2350.


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