Indy judges to have closed-door interviews before retention nod

Marion Superior judges would appear behind closed doors before a committee comprised mainly of political appointees who would recommend whether jurists should or should not be retained in office, according to a bill that passed the General Assembly.

That process is among those spelled out in House Bill 1036, which creates a new judicial-selection process for the 36 judges of Marion Superior Court. Lawmakers passed the bill Friday on the session’s final day, with the House voting 69-30 and the Senate voting 28-22 to send the bill to Gov. Eric Holcomb.

The bill passed despite concerns that the public would not have a voice in elections, that the proposed bill could result in a lawsuit challenging its constitutionality, and that the proposal could harm diversity on the bench.

The final version of HB 1036 restores the original proposed composition of the Marion Superior judicial selection committee and eliminates direct election of judges, instead providing voters the option to retain judges. Under the final bill, the 14-member committee will consist of:

  • one member each appointed by the speaker of the House, House minority leader, Senate president pro tem and Senate majority leader;
  • two members each appointed by the chairs of the Marion County Democratic and Republican parties;
  • four attorney members, one each appointed by the Indianapolis Bar Association, Marion County Bar Association, Defense Trial Counsel of Indiana and the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association; and
  • a member of the Court of Appeals and an Indiana Supreme Court justice.

The makeup of the panel is unique among Indiana’s other counties with merit selection — Allen, Lake and St. Joseph — whose panels are evenly divided between lawyers and lay members and chaired by a justice. Also unique in the proposed Marion County judicial selection committee is its requirement to recommend, or not, that judges be retained.

The adopted measure for the first time describes that process for judges seeking retention. “Each judge is entitled to a hearing before the committee. The hearings shall be held in executive session.” Judges are presumed qualified for retention, the bill says, and the vote of nine members would be required to recommend a judge not be retained.

The panel will post retention recommendations on the Indiana Supreme Court website and inform news media of those recommendations, according to the legislation.

The General Assembly had to pass a new means of selecting Marion Superior judges after the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the former system for electing judges was unconstitutional because it deprived residents a meaningful vote.    

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