Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb has appointed two lawyers and one nonlawyer to the Lake County Judicial Nominating Commission, completing the selection of the JNC under controversial legislation enacted this year that changed the makeup of two judicial nominating groups.
Holcomb on Thursday announced the appointment of Heather Delgado, David Wickland and Todd Williams to the Lake County JNC, which nominates lawyers to the Lake Superior Court. Delgado, of Munster, practices in Barnes & Thornburg’s Chicago office while Wickland is a solo practitioner in Munster. Williams is not a lawyer.
Holcomb’s appointments to the JNC come after he signed legislation changing the composition of the judicial nominating commissions in Lake and St. Joseph counties.
Under House Enrolled Act 1453, which the governor signed in April, the two commissions are now comprised of seven members: three appointed by the governor, three appointed by the county commissioners and one justice of the Indiana Supreme Court. The JNCs are tasked with submitting the names of five candidates to the governor each time a vacancy occurs on the local superior court bench.
Before HEA 1453, the Lake County body had nine members: four attorneys, four nonattorneys and Justice Geoffrey Slaughter. The St. Joseph JNC had seven members, including three attorneys, three nonattorneys and Justice Christopher Goff.
The Lake County panel was previously tasked with submitting three names to the governor for each superior court vacancy, while the St. Joseph panel was already submitting five.
The legislation was widely opposed by judges and lawyers in the northern Indiana counties, including the local bar associations, which said they were not consulted or informed about the bill before it was introduced to the 2021 General Assembly.
The concern was that the new appointment structure eliminated the input of the local bar, which previously made appointments to the JNC. Also, there were concerns that diversity would be lost.
Under the legislation, one member of each county’s JNC must be an attorney, one of the governor’s appointees must be a woman and one of the commissioners’ appointees must be a minority.
Indiana Rep. Michael Aylesworth, a Hebron Republican, drafted the legislation. He described the bill as a simple “reset” of the judicial nominating process.
Aylesworth claimed he’d heard from lawyers in Lake and St. Joseph County who felt the previous judicial selection processes were unfair and politically biased. But he declined to identify those lawyers, saying they feared reprisal.
Previous members of the judicial nominating commissions who spoke to Indiana Lawyer said they had not heard complaints about the judicial selection process.
The Indiana State Bar Association also publicly opposed the bill.
In June, the Lake County commissioners made their appointments to the JNC, according to the Times of Northwest Indiana: Alfredo Estrada of Burke Costanza & Carberry, Brandy Darling of the Lake County Prosecutor’s Office and Aimbrell Holmes, administrator of the Gary City Court.
Also this summer, Indiana Chief Justice Loretta Rush appointed Justice Mark Massa as chair of Lake County Judicial Nominating Commission and Justice Slaughter as chair of the St. Joseph JNC. Both will serve four-year terms.