Plaintiffs trying to overturn Lake County JNC tap brakes on court proceeding as judicial selection moves forward

A federal court has granted a request by the plaintiffs challenging the judicial selection process in Lake County to toss their previously filed motion for a preliminary injunction, which sought to stop the local nominating commission from filling the superior court vacancy created by the death of Judge Diane Boswell. Meanwhile, the Lake County Judicial Nominating Commission is preparing for interviews with 12 candidates vying to fill the Lake Superior Court vacancy.

Northern Indiana District Court Judge Philip Simon issued the one-page order Tuesday, granting the plaintiffs’ motion and vacating the deadlines that had been set.

Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott and the city of Hammond filed their motion to withdraw in City of Hammond, et al. v Lake County Judicial Nominating Commission, 2:21-cv-00160, Monday. At the same time, they filed a motion for leave to amend their original complaint, telling the federal court they want to add Secretary of State Holli Sullivan, the Lake County Election Board and the state of Indiana as defendants.

The plaintiffs assert the judicial selection process used to nominate and appoint judges in Allen, Lake, Marion and St. Joseph counties violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by disenfranchising minority voters.

While about 82% of white Indiana residents have the ability to vote directly for judges, 49% of minority residents and 66% of Black residents have “an abridged voting right,” according to the amended complaint. Those voters live in the counties where they do not directly elect individuals to the bench but can only vote to retain the judges who are selected by a commission and appointed by the governor.

“Voters in Lake County have no incentive to vote to not retain Superior Court Judges because this will not result in them being able to participate equally in the selection and election of a replacement judge, but will instead only result in the JNC selecting new nominees and the Governor appointing one to replace the non-retained judge,” the amend complaint states.

The plaintiffs filed their lawsuit in May after Gov. Eric Holcomb signed into a law a controversial bill revamping the judicial selection process in Lake and St. Joseph counties. Arguing the judicial selection process violates federal voting law as well as the Indiana Constitution, the plaintiffs want the court to order the state to enact a voting procedure for Lake Superior Court judges that complies with the VRA — which, they argue, would mean allowing residents to vote directly for judges.

Consequently, the plaintiffs are dropping their attempt to stop the JNC from filling Boswell’s seat so as to give the defendants more time to establish full and open elections for judges for Lake County residents. The expedited timeline that was set by the court to brief and decide on the motion for preliminary injunction would not give the court and the parties the time necessary to address these “weighty issues.”

“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,” the plaintiffs stated in their motion to withdraw.

On the same day the federal court granted the plaintiffs’ motions, the Indiana Supreme Court announced that the Lake County JNC would proceed with interviews next week to fill the vacancy on the Lake Superior Court.

Boswell’s death created a vacancy in Lake Superior Court Criminal Division Room 3. Pursuant to local rules, Judge Gina Jones was approved for transfer to that court, so the commission will interview for Jones’ vacancy in Civil Division Room 6.

The 12 applicants are scheduled to be interviewed in the commissioners/council courtroom on the third floor of the Administration Building at the Lake County Government Center, 2293 N. Main Street, Crown Point.

The interviews will take place on Central Standard Time as follows:

9–9:20 a.m.: Sandra Moreno Garcia
9:20–9:40 a.m.: Andrew Kraemer
9:40–10 a.m.: Carly Brandenburg
10:10–10:30 a.m.: Jamise Perkins
10:30–10:50 a.m.: Shontrai Irving
10:50–11:10 a.m.: Stacy Vasilak
11:20–11:40 a.m.: Lake Superior Court Magistrate Judge Shaun T. Olsen
11:40–noon: Frank Martinez III
Noon–12:20 p.m.: Daniel Burke Jr.
1:30–1:50 p.m.: Gary Bell
1:50–2:10 p.m.: Rehana Adat-Lopez
2:10–2:30 p.m.: Lake Superior Court Magistrate Judge Alexis Vazquez Dedelow

After the interviews, the commission will deliberate before taking a public vote. The commission will be tasked with submitting the names of “the five most highly qualified candidates from among all those eligible” for appointment to Holcomb, who will make the final selection to fill the vacancy.

Public comment on applicant qualifications will be accepted electronically at [email protected] until noon CST on Dec. 10. Submissions must include the sender’s name, email address and a phone number to permit follow-up inquiries.

All commission proceedings and deliberations will be open to the public, with limited in-person seating available. Masks will be required regardless of vaccination status, and members of the audience are asked to refrain from activities that might distract from the interview process.

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