Saturday, February 23, 2008

May Primary Is The Election For Marion County Judges

The Star's Jon Murray explains in his story today about Marion County's judicial races why the May primary is the race for all practical purposes. He writes:

The May primary won't just set the stage for judicial elections in the fall -- it likely will determine who sits on the bench in Marion Superior Court.

Incumbents and other candidates who filed for the primary by Friday's deadline will take part in the true contest. Changes to state law in 2006 ensured that unless there are third-party candidates, everyone who makes it past the primary to the fall ballot will win.

Marion Superior Court has 16 judgeships up for election this year for six-year terms, and state law mandates that they be divided evenly between Democrats and Republicans.

That includes a new court that will be added in 2009, giving the Superior Court a total of 36 elected judges -- again, split evenly, with control of the court's executive
committee alternating between the parties every two years.
This is why Judges Gary Miller and Kenneth Johnson have decided it is just too important not to give voters a choice in the May primary, notwithstanding who party precinct committeepersons thought should be slated for these 16 positions. "My 18-year judicial career got tossed," Miller said. "I'm confident that come the primary, I'll lead the ticket." And he has good reason to feel that way. Recall that in 2006 Republicans nominated Ron Franklin for the 7th District congressional seat. Eric Dickerson ran against the slated candidate and a field of several other candidates and captured more than 50% of the vote, beating Franklin by a 2-1 margin. It's not the same GOP organization John Sweazey successfully ran years ago.

Murray also discusses the problem GOP candidate, Timothy Oakes. He writes:

One Republican candidate created controversy three years ago when he applied for an appointment from the governor to fill the outgoing juvenile judge's term. Timothy Oakes, now 43, killed a man while driving drunk when he was 17.

He later withdrew his name after protests from the family of the victim, Larry E. Morton. Oakes said Friday that his 2005 meeting with the family included a pledge ever to contact them again. He is qualified to be judge, he said, with broad experience including work in politics and as an attorney, a deputy prosecutor, a pro tem judge and now president and general counsel of the Indiana Cable Telecommunications Association.

"We try to live our life the right way and try to do the right things," Oakes said. "I think I've done so."

The story omits Oakes' well-publicized firing several years back as a deputy prosecutor by former Prosecutor Scott Newman. At least the voters will have the opportunity to decide what really matters when it comes to judicial qualifications. I know of no other place in the country where judges are elected that the winners of a party's primary automatically win a seat on the bench, which means that only those voters who vote in a primary can impact which judges are elected. And even on that point, they can only affect the outcome of the judges running within their own party's primary.


Wilson46201 said...

Richard Nixon is the reason for this judge election system in Marion County! His landslide victory in 1972 decimated the Democratic judges in Marion County and the Watergate Democratic landslide in 1974 wiped out Republican judges. The powers-that-be came to a mutual agreement to prevent these extreme partisan oscillations with the current system of guaranteed almost-equality in partisan judges.

Most folk could not give a damn about who gets elected as judge. It may be of great interest to the justice community, mainly lawyers and court employees. The average citizen rarely appears in court. The number of supporters of a particular judge is really very small. The political party thus becomes the advisor to the general voter.

Anonymous said...

If Johnson and Miller are going to succeed they have to run political-style compaigns that reach out to voters. If they run on their name alone, they're cooked. I have a little more faith that Miller will do that than Johnson. Miller comes from more of a political background.

If Tim Oakes situation really comes out then he's probably not going to make it regardless of how much money he spends. The question is will the media promote the story again? It will be difficult for Miller and Johnson to succeed.

As an attorney practicing in Marion County courts, the one that I'd love to see gone is Marilyn Moores. She has the worst temperment of maybe anyone ever appointed judge in history. Alright I exaggerate, but not by much. I'm not sure what Daniels was thinking when he appointed her.

Of course the one weak area of Daniels' administration is his judgment in terms of appointments and a complete failure to monitor the various executive agencies that make up state government. I'm sure the Dems will fully exploit some of the embarassments at those state agencies that have grabbed the headlines.

Anonymous said...

Can someone run as an Indepedent for Judge on the November ballot?

Gary R. Welsh said...

Third party judicial candidates are allowed just like any other political race as long as the ballot access law is satisfied.

Anonymous said...

What's the point of the slating process if people can run against the slate? Does the average voter really know what the "slate" means? I think not.

Wilson46201 said...

The "Slate" means a unified political party commitment of the hundreds of precinct workers to assist the slated candidates. The parties also produce campaign material (posters, flyers, phone-banking, mailings, radio spots, TV commercials, etc.) backing the slated candidates.

There are hundreds of precincts in Indianapolis - it's horribly difficult for an individual non-slated candidate to cover most of them. The parties can and do work all the precincts for the party's slated candidates...being slated is a tremendous asset!

Anonymous said...

Being slated by this Democratic Party, with this chairman, is not any great shakes, Wilson.

Gloss it any way you want--he's weak, and he probably cannot carry the slate this time.

It is a tough gig, but he's done a royally poor job.

Anonymous said...

After discussing the matter with family, friends, and political advisors, I have decided to withdraw from the race. Under the circumstances, my family and I simply do not want to spend the next 10 weeks on an intense political campaign to the exclusion of all else.