5 attorneys named finalists for Lake Superior vacancy

The Lake County Judicial Nominating Commission has selected five local attorneys as finalists to fill a vacancy on the Lake Superior Court as a lawsuit challenging the county’s judicial selection process proceeds.

The Lake County JNC announced the five finalists for the vacancy on Lake Superior Court, Civil Division Room 6 on Monday, including:

  • Rehana Adat-Lopez
  • Gary Bell
  • Carly Brandenburg
  • Shontrai Irving
  • Jamise Perkins

The commission interviewed a total of 12 candidates on Monday. The vacancy opened up when Judge Diane Boswell died suddenly in October and Judge Gina Jones was transferred to Boswell’s former court, Criminal Division Room 3.

The names of the five finalists will be submitted to Gov. Eric Holcomb, who will make the final selection of the county’s next judge.

However, a federal lawsuit is challenging the county’s judicial selection procedures.

Before April 29, the Lake County Judicial Nominating Commission had nine members who were charged with selecting three finalists for each superior court vacancy. Now, it has seven members — three appointed by the governor, three appointed by the county commissioners and Justice Mark Massa — who select five finalists.

On April 29, Holcomb signed into law controversial legislation that changed the composition and requirements of the Lake County JNC, as well as the commission in St. Joseph County. The bill was widely opposed as removing attorney and minority input from the judicial selection process in two counties with high minority populations.

The city of Hammond and its mayor, Thomas McDermott, initially moved for a preliminary injunction to prevent the Lake County JNC from filling the Boswell vacancy. They argued the judicial selection process in Lake and St. Joseph counties — as well as Allen and Marion counties, the other Indiana counties using merit selection — violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by disenfranchising minority voters.

According to the complaint, about 82% of white Hoosiers directly elect their judges, while 49% of minority Hoosiers and 66% of Black Hoosiers have “an abridged voting right.” Those voters live in counties where they cannot elect judges, according to the complaint, but can only retain judges after they are selected.

But the plaintiffs have since moved to withdraw their preliminary injunction motion and to amend their complaint to also name Indiana Secretary of State Holli Sullivan, the Lake County Election Board and the state as defendants.

In dropping the injunction motion, the plaintiffs said they wanted to give the defendants more time to establish open elections for Lake County judges.

“The goal of the relief sought by the Plaintiffs is to lead to a measured result consistent with the (Voting Rights Act) in a manner that does not disrupt the broader judicial work in Lake County, giving the Indiana General Assembly time to craft a legislative fix that complies with the VRA and gives equal voting rights to all Indiana residents,” they wrote.

The case is City of Hammond, et al v. Lake County Judicial Nominating Commission, 2:21-cv-00160.

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