Monday, November 26, 2007

Closer Scrutiny Of Daniels' Judicial Appointments

While Gov. Mitch Daniels' critics have plenty to keep them busy with the multiple initiatives he has undertaken during his first three years in office, nobody is paying much attention to the judicial appointments he has made. Yet, the people he appoints to the bench will be wielding decisions for ten, twenty or more years after he leaves office. As governor, he appoints trial court judges statewide whenever a vacancy occurs, and he fills vacancies on the Indiana Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court. The long-term impact of his judicial appointees far exceeds the impact of most other decisions he makes while in office.

Disappointingly, Gov. Daniels to date has preferred persons with strong, Republican partisan credentials as opposed to candidates with proven experience. Daniels has appointed only one appellate court judge, Cale Bradford, a Marion Superior Court judge from a family with long-term ties to Marion County Republican politics. As a trial court judge, Bradford saw a number of his decisions overturned by the Court of Appeals. In one highly-publicized decision, the Court of Appeals ruled that Bradford exceeded his authority when he instructed parents in a child custody matter not to expose their child to their Wiccan religious beliefs. On another occasion, the Indiana Supreme Court criticized Bradford for failing to recuse himself in a City-County Council redistricting case which directly impacted a council district represented by his brother.

The Judicial Nominating Commission is now considering seven finalists for another vacancy on the Court of Appeals to replace Judge John Sharpnack. The Commission will recommend three finalists to Governor Daniels. Included on the list of seven finalists for the vacant position is Sen. Brent Steele (R-Bedford). Based on his earlier appointments, it is not beyond the realm of speculation that Steele will wind up being Daniels choice to fill Sharpnack's vacancy. A Steele appointment would be quite troubling, although it would be music to the ears of the religious right, which is determined to stack our state courts with judges who will legislate their extremist agenda from the bench.

As a long-time state lawmaker, Steele has shown particular animus towards minorities. He has consistently opposed hate crimes legislation, which would allow for enhanced sentencing of persons convicted of committing crimes against a person or their property because of their race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, sex or sexual orientation. He opposed the enactment of Indiana's hate crimes reporting law. He has supported legislation aimed at denying certain benefits and government services to undocumented immigrants. He supported Indiana's Defense of Marriage Act, which bars same-sex couples from marrying. And he is an outspoken proponent of SJR-7, a proposed constitutional amendment to bar the recognition of the legal incidents of marriage for any unmarried couple, straight or gay.

The question people need to be asking is how many judges with the ideological bent of a Bradford or Steele will Daniels have to appoint to the appellate courts before earlier precedents protecting minorities from discrimination are overturned? It is after all opinions of our appellate courts which have prevented trial court judges from discriminating against parents in child custody disputes and adoption proceedings because of their sexual orientation. The Indiana legislature has never passed a law to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination. It has, however, tried unsuccessfully to bar them from adopting children or being foster parents.

As Daniels prepares his re-election bid next year, the last thing he wants is a primary opponent. Although the religious right blasted Daniels earlier in his administration for supporting an EEO policy of non-discrimination, which included protections based on a person's sexual orientation or gender identity, and for writing a letter of support for an Indianapolis gay pride event, Daniels has subsequently retreated and towed the line on many of the demands of the religious right. Already struggling with low public approval ratings, Daniels wants to avoid a potentially costly and divisive primary battle against Eric Miller, his 2004 primary opponent, or someone else from the religious right. Daniels may use his judicial appointments to appease the religious right. Appointing Steele to the Court of Appeals may be one way of satisfying the religious right.

People need to start paying closer attention to the people Daniels appoints to bench or soon it will be the courts and not the legislature which poses the greatest risk to the rights of disfavored minorities in this state. Instead of writing Gov. Daniels about Major Moves, Lottery privatization or property taxes, you might want to consider writing a letter to him letting him know how you feel about the people he appoints to serve as judges.

3 comments:

Bonnie Russell said...

see www.USAjudges.com

The way around the problem is during an election year. With enough reports, people won't allow a judge to remain on the bench.

USAjudges.com provides the public a much needed consumers report on judges. Data-driven by case numbers, report information is independently verified. More importantly, USAjudges.com bypasses state agencies long deemed ponderous, secretive and politically easy on errant judges.

http://www.ajs.org/ethics/pdfs/When%20confidentiality%20ceases.pdf



Ultimately the reader/voters are left with one choice. Making government absolutely transparent.


Those wanting good government know their participation is the only choice and it's a choice good Americans choose.


Results came quickly.


Shortly before one election an attorney provided video information in the case of a judge by forwarding us a copy of a long ago shelved video demonstrating the judge playing computer solitaire during a child custody trial, as well as the original 11 page public reprimand, since reduced by Commission on Judicial Performance, (in a move benefiting only the judge), to a one page one page “Summary.”


The judge was defeated in his bid for re-election.


Transparency, and Verified reports are why attorneys, reporters and the public alike rely on USAjudges.com

Or, as one businessman quipped,

"A Dun and Bradstreet on judges - I like it!"


The model is as follows:


WHAT:
USAjudges.com, a consumers report on judges, is the first data driven collection mechanism available to foster in-depth accountability based on judicial transparency.

WHY:

USAjudges.com answers the public need for judicial transparency after the decades old pattern and practice of State Commissions on Judicial Performance consistently failed to protect the public from bad judges; or inform the public of good ones.

HOW:
USAjudges.com functions as follows:



Attorneys and individuals create an extremely detailed, in-depth report on a particular judge. The low, $45.00 administrative fee is for administration verification purposes.


Attorneys and individuals can purchase a report for $150.00. If no report exists, USAjudges.com will conduct their own investigation and report back within 10 business days.

WHO:
Who is responsible for governmental transparency? The public. Congress defaulted. And attorneys and individuals, including other judges, are responding. (Attorneys took to it immediately, E-mailing PDF’d copies of court transcripts.)


There's a lot of satisfaction derived from a $45.00 report. Or, as one attorney we telephoned to verify said,

"I felt so good you could have charged me double."

Also, USAjudges finishes what reporters begin.


In the case of Nebraska criminal court Judge Kristine Cecava, who refused to send an admitted child molester to prison because he was, short;

http://www.journalstar.com/articles/2006/05/25/local/doc4474ed34cdca3829136003.txt



USAjudges.com went a step beyond traditional media, which likewise did not report Judge Cecava was no maverick judge. USAjudges.com discovered Judge Cecava served as past president of the Nebraska Judges Association and, making her sentence stranger still; on the 'Task Force' to Protect Children – http://www2.csc.edu/eyh/speaker/speaker2000.asp



As I said to the conference attendees at the 10th Regional District meeting of the American College of Trial Attorneys, "Protect children from whom? Her?


Ultimately, we are responsible for our government. The question then becomes do we act; or complain.

Jeff Newman said...

Steele testified at a marriage amendment hearing I attended a couple of years ago. His was the most inarticulate, rambling nonsense of the day. I can't imagine anything other than partisanship that would prompt the governor to appoint this guy to ANYTHING.

Anonymous said...

Right on, AI! Daniels does not seem at all concerned with the quality of his judicial appointees. Instead, his focus is on how the appointment can help him hold onto the governor's office.

Case in point, I have heard about one appointment where he ignored the recommendation of the Judicial Nominating Commission regarding the replacement of a trial court judge in Northern Indiana and instead chose a less experienced but better politically connected appointee.

And look at the quality of his appointments here in Indianapolis. He appointed Dave Certo to finish Bradford's term. Certo has no real legal experience. He has been nothing but a political hack for most of his career, doing all kinds of things other than practicing law. The story now circulating is that he tried to make defense counsel argue first in closing arguments during his first trial (for nonlawyers, even second year law students know that the party bringing the case goes first in both opening and closing arguments).

Daniels is leaving a legacy alright - unfortunately, it is one the rest of us have to live with.