Senate hearing set on Marion County judicial-selection bill

A proposal to select Marion Superior judges through a unique merit-selection system will be heard by a Senate committee Wednesday.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will hear House Bill 1036, which would establish a judicial-selection system for Indianapolis that critics say could lead to a court challenge because its passage would deprive voters of direct election of judges in the four state counties with the highest percentage of minority population.

Bill author Rep. Greg Steuerwald, R-Avon, said the bill will ensure a diverse, qualified judiciary while limiting political influence in the county that has jurisdiction over many conflicts arising from acts of state government.

HB 1036 proposes creation of a 14-member merit-selection commission: Four appointed by Indiana House and Senate leaders from both parties; two each appointed by Marion County Democratic and Republican party chairs; one each appointed by the Indianapolis Bar Association, Marion County Bar Association, Defense Trial Counsel of Indiana and the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association; one judge of the Indiana Court of Appeals and one Indiana Supreme Court justice. The panel would vet candidates for judicial vacancies and recommend three to the governor for appointment.

A new system for choosing judges is needed after the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Indiana’s former “slating” system. The federal appeals court said the prior system that assured partisan balance deprived residents of a meaningful vote.

If the bill passes, Marion would join Allen, Lake and St. Joseph counties as those where superior court judges are chosen through merit selection.

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