« Ind. Law - "Marion County Superior Court Judge Carol Orbison protests Wheat's early release" [Updated] | Main | Ind. Law - "Middlebury man injured in motorized barstool crash" »

Friday, May 04, 2012

Ind. Courts - Re: Payment of Marion County Judicial Slating Fees

Here is a letter dated April 23, 2012 from Adrienne L. Meiring, Counsel to the Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications, written in response to a request from Attorney Paul K. Ogden.

The 3-page letter begins:

The Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications has received and considered your letter dated January 11, 2012. In the letter, you request that the Commission revisit Advisory Opinion #1-92 in light of the twenty-year history since its enactment. You further request that the Indiana Supreme Court consider such opinion and make it binding and that the Supreme Court order any slating fees received by the chairs of the Republican and Democratic Parties pursuant to the 2012 election be returned to the judicial candidate's committee from which it was received.

In 1992, the Commission issued Advisory Opinion #1-92 [ILB: Here is 8-page Advisory Opinion #1-92.] to address whether the Commission believed a judge could contribute financially to a political candidate, party, or organization, consistent with the Code of Judicial Conduct, and whether payments in the form of assessments, slating fees, or other mandatory political payments were proper. The question required an analysis of Canon 7 A(2)'s language which permitted a judge who holds office filled by public election between competing candidates to contribute to a party or organization.

The letter distinguishes between a voluntary contribution vs. an assessment or slating fee. The letter continues:
[M]aking a voluntary contribution to a political party is consistent with the Code of Judicial Conduct, but paying an assessment or slating fee is not.
The letter closes:
Assessments or slating fees overwhelmingly tip this balance by suggesting to the public that a judicial candidate had to buy favor with the political party in order to obtain his/her judicial seat. Political parties certainly are allowed to decide whom to support and most likely want to give that support to active and contributing members of the party; nonetheless, this support cannot be conditioned on payment of an assessment or slating fee without undermining the very heart of what Canon 4 attempts to protect. In these situations, it is not unreasonable to expect that members of the public will view the judge as beholden to the party. Preventing such an impression and preserving public confidence in the judiciary are items that the Commission views as compelling interests.

Further, the Commission would emphasize that the crucial inquiry regarding contributions to political parties is not how they are labeled but whether the contribution is voluntary. Calling a payment a "mandatory contribution," as opposed to a "slating fee" does not make the payment any less inconsistent with Rule 4.1(A)(4). While not an exhaustive list, some of the factors the Commission believes are important to evaluate when considering whether a payment is voluntary include the timing of the payment, particularly if it must be paid by a certain time, such as before a slating convention; whether anyone from the political party communicated to the judicial candidate that the payment is expected; and whether the amount contributed by all judicial candidates during an election cycle is the same (assuming no further explanation for the coincidence).

As to your other requests, the Commission has no jurisdiction to require the political parties to return slating fees paid, nor does it have any specific means to request that the Supreme Court make the Commission's advisory opinions binding.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on May 4, 2012 03:51 PM
Posted to Indiana Courts