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Ricafort: Crafting a Plan for the Future

February 8, 2017

iba-ricafort-nissa-2017In my capacity as president of the Indianapolis Bar Association, I had the privilege a few weeks ago to testify before the Indiana House Courts and Criminal Code Committee in support of a proposed merit-selection system for our Marion County judges, and in particular, House Bill 1036, authored by Representative Greg Steuerwald and co-authored by House Speaker Brian Bosma, Representative David Frizzell and Representative Edward DeLaney.

The hearing room was packed full of representatives from various community and legal organizations, as well as several law makers from both the House and Senate. Many individuals testified in support of the bill, while others expressed concern that a merit-selection system would erode the diversity of our local bench and would not ensure a bench representative of our community.

The Indianapolis Bar Association has long supported merit selection for our local judges and we have thoroughly weighed the concern that a merit-selection system would minimize or eliminate diversity in the judicial branch. We have reviewed independent research indicating that a merit-selection process is at least as good as judicial elections at promoting diversity on the bench and have considered the opinions of our members who have expressed concerns about diversity.

Fortunately, the authors of this legislation also have carefully considered these concerns and have crafted merit-selection legislation that is unique compared to other merit-selection processes in other Indiana counties. HB 1036 specifically requires the members of the Marion County Judicial Selection Committee to consider whether a candidate appearing before the committee “reflects the diversity and makeup of Marion County.” Thus, unlike a direct elective system or other merit-selection systems in Indiana, demographic diversity is a required consideration in the selection of judges.

In addition, the legislation provides that “[i]n no event may more than fifty-two percent (52%) of the judges serving on the Marion Superior Court be members of the same political party.” The legislation also requires the committee to consider several other attributes in evaluating a judicial candidate, including, but not limited to, the candidate’s contribution to legal scholarship, participation in public service, legal experience, probable judicial temperament and personality traits. By specifically outlining these considerations, we believe that this legislation asks the right questions to get the best judges on our bench.

The Marion Superior Court currently has 36 judges who represent a diverse group of women and men with varied legal backgrounds who have served our community extremely well. Significant to our support of this legislation is that all 36 members of the Marion Superior Court agree that this legislation is compatible with the judges’ objectives for future selection of judicial members. Our current judges desire a judicial-selection system that will result in a diverse, qualified, talented and stable bench. The Indianapolis Bar Association echoes these goals. Moreover, HB 1036 satisfies the list of principles articulated by our judicial selection task force as critical to any judicial selection plan worthy of our endorsement.

We realize that there is no perfect judicial selection system and anticipate that there will be tweaks to any new system in the upcoming years. However, we have an opportunity now with HB 1036 to create a new selection system that will minimize the influence of politics in the process, will prevent our judges from having to raise money to fund a general election campaign and will codify the consideration of Marion County’s demographic diversity. We believe this legislation is good for Marion County, and we hope you will join us in supporting merit selection as a thoughtful and reasonable new method to select our judges. •

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