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Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Ind. Courts - Marion County judges selection bill approved by House committee

Yesterday we reported that HB 1703 was about to be heard in committee -- today we report that it has been approved and passed out of committee. As reported by Mary Beth Schneider in the Indianapolis Star today:

Marion County judges would be appointed by the governor instead of chosen by voters under a bill approved late Monday on a party-line vote by an Indiana House committee. * * *

The bill was approved by the committee 7-5, though four of the Republicans said they believed it needs more work before becoming law.

The bill would have all 32 Marion County judges appointed through a process involving an 11-member panel. That panel, led by the Indiana Supreme Court's chief justice, would make three recommendations for each spot on the bench; the governor would make the final pick.

Members of that panel would be appointed by the governor, the Indianapolis Bar Association, the Marion County Bar Association and the county's party chairmen.

Committee members did revise the measure to allow current judges to stay on the bench and then be placed on the ballot in a retention election, as will all future gubernatorial appointees. That's the process now used for state appellate and Supreme Court justices in which voters decide whether a certain judge should be retained.

Murphy argued that the current system in Marion County is fraught with politics. Both parties have a slating system, in which candidates attend party functions to win the support of precinct committeemen who endorse candidates before the primary.

Though he said all current judges are qualified, Murphy said a panel of lawyers and others could better choose good candidates, who would not then need to raise campaign cash.

Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard said he favors a nonpartisan merit selection process to choose judges.

"One defect here (in Marion County) has been that partisanship is always in front of everybody," he said.

That was true, too, at the hearing.

Republican judges from Marion County spoke in favor of the bill, calling it a good government move that will increase diversity, protect quality and remove any perception that political contributions influence judges.

Democratic judges spoke against the bill, calling it bad government to take away the voice of the people and remove a process that has increased diversity. Besides, they said, judges still will have to raise campaign contributions in their retention elections if they are targeted for defeat.

John F. Kautzman, president of the Indianapolis Bar Association, said the group doesn't oppose the bill, believing a merit selection process could increase the independence of the judiciary.

But, he said, the association that represents about 5,000 attorneys in Marion County doesn't support the bill yet, either, believing it needs changes to make sure the commission that makes the recommendations is as free as possible from political influence.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on February 8, 2005 09:46 AM
Posted to Indiana Courts | Indiana Law