« Ind. Decisions - "Conviction overturned for man lured online by cop posing as girl" | Main | Law - "Freedom of photography: Police, security often clamp down despite public right" »

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Ind. Courts - Senator Steele on legislation impacting the court selection process

During the course of this month, the ILB has reviewed the records on appeal of the four trial judge semi-finalists to fill the upcoming vacancy on the Supreme Court, and the oral advocacy of the three semi-finalists who have argued cases before the Court. Brent E. Steele, one of the nine semi-finalists, has been a member of the Indiana Senate since 2005. In Senator Steele's case, we will look at his position on legislation impacting the court selection process and expansion of the Court of Appeals..

SJR 1-2005. During the period from 2005 to 2010, few bills to alter the appellate court system have been introduced in the General Assembly and, of those, only a handful have moved out of the first house committee. Perhaps the most significant effort occurred in 2005, during Senator Steele's first session.

Senator Michael Young authored SJR 1, a proposed constitutional amendment. To quote from an article published in October, 2005 -- "Voting to Retain or Reject Indiana Judges and Justices," 49 Res Gestae 3 (Oct. 2005), pp. 21-23:

During the 2005 session, the Indiana Senate considered a proposal to amend Article 7 of the Indiana Constitution to require that the Governor’s nominee to an appellate court be subject to confirmation by a majority of the Senate. After ten years, under this proposal, the justice or judge again would come before the Senate for retention. A favorable vote of 40% of the members of the Senate would assure retention.

The measure passed the Senate by a roll call vote of 33 to 16, but died in House committee.

How did Senator Steele vote on this bill?

The measure was considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Feb. 23. 2005, and was approved by a vote of 10-1. Senator Steele voted "Yes". (RC 5261)

The measure was adopted on third reading in the Senate on March 1, 2005 by a vote of 33-16. Senator Steele voted "Yea". (RC 230)

Other Related Legislation. The other significant effort to alter the appellate selection and retention process during this period took place in the House in 2006. According to a press report at the time:

House Bill 1419 was a vehicle bill with no content until the Republican-dominated House Rules Committee amended it to include controversial language about selecting and retaining Indiana Supreme Court and Indiana Court of Appeals judges.
However, the committee's report mysteriously never made it to the floor of the House, as recounted in detail in this article: "Analysis of another effort to alter the Indiana judicial selection and retention process," 49 Res Gestae 7 (Mar. 2006)," pp. 32-38.

Expanding the Court of Appeals. In 2007 and 2009 Senate bills were introduced to add a new Sixth District to the Indiana Court of Appeals. Both times the bills (SB 147-2007, SB 35-2009), supported by Senator Steele, passed the Senate but died in the House. Also, in November of 2007, Senator Steele was one of seven semi-finalists for the Court of Appeals vacancy to which Elaine Brown ultimately was appointed.

HEA 1491-2009. In 2009 the House passed a bill, HB 1491, that would have required that St. Joseph County Superior Court judges be elected, rather than appointed. St. Joe is one of two counties where judges currently are appointed, via a merit selection system similar to that of the state appellate courts, and subsequently subject to retention elections.

On April 8, 2009, the Senate Judiciary Committee acted on the House measure, voting 6-5 to send HB 1491, as amended in the Senate committee to include language adding a sixth Court of Appeals panel, to the full Senate. Senator Steele voted "Yes." (RC 6703)

The measure was passed on third reading in the Senate by a vote of 35-15 on April 15, 2009. Senator Steele voted "Yea". (RC 381) See this April 9th ILB entry, where Senator Steele is quoted: "[E]lecting judges makes them more accountable to the people they serve."

On April 28 the conferees agreed on the bill as amended in the Senate. On April 29 both houses approved the conference committee report. Senator Steele voted "Yea". (RC 461)

On May 13, 2009 the Governor vetoed HEA 1491, writing in part that "The current method of selecting judges for the St. Joseph Superior Court has prevailed successfully for 35 years. It is a model to be emulated, not discarded." See the complete veto message here.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on July 28, 2010 10:15 AM
Posted to Vacancy on Supreme Ct