Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Former Supreme Court Justice Calls For Changes In Wake Of Fundraising Flap

Former Indiana Supreme Court Justice Ted Boehm has written an article for the IBJ saying that judges in Marion County should be appointed through a merit selection system rather than elected after a controversial fundraising solicitation was circulated among lawyers for Judge Becky Pierson-Treacy. Boehm called the elected system whereby judges are chosen in a closed door meeting by a handful of attorneys and power brokers of each political power "downright screwy." Boehm spoke to WRTV's Derrick Thomas about his views:

 "Just think how you'd feel if you are going into a court and the judge has the power to decide who gets custody of your children, and the lawyer from the other side has made a $1,000 contribution to the judge and your lawyer hasn't," Boehm told 6News' Derrik Thomas reported.
Thomas also spoke to former Marion Co. Superior Court Judge Gary Miller about the typical $12,000 slating fee candidates for judge pay to get the privilege of serving as a Marion County judge.

"It's very uncomfortable for judges. We go from being this very independent judicial officer, to being a very partisan, political creature," he said.
Naturally, Marion Co. GOP Chairman Kyle Walker thinks the current system is perfect.

 "What we have in Marion County is the best merit system. It's an endorsement process that has worked," he said. "Anytime you can put the opinions of hundreds of people over those 10 people (who slate candidates) that are handpicked by the governor and other folks, you're probably going to be better off."

Walker's suggestion that the opinions of hundreds of people go into the selection of the judges could not be further from the truth. Before precinct committee persons meet to choose judge candidate at a caucus, a small group of attorneys and power brokers have already decided who will be chosen. Most of the PCs who vote at the caucus are appointed by the county chairmen. Not surprisingly, they are typically government employees and government contractors beholden to the wishes of the party leaders. 


Jeff Cox said...

However bad the current system is, a "merit" selection system without elections for judges would be far, far worse: local judges would be completely unaccountable to the public. Boehm's suggestion is part of a movement by lawyers across the country to end judicial elections.

Gary R. Welsh said...

Jeff, There is no election contest under the current system. The system predetermines that all but one of the slated candidates of the respected parties win in the general election. I would take the process we have for selecting court of appeals and supreme court justices over this system any day. Also, we force Lake County to live with a merit selection system. Why is it necessary there but not here?

Paul K. Ogden said...

I agree slating makes the current election system in Marion County untenable. But slating is actually prohibited by the Code of Judicial Conduct. They get around it by claiming it's all voluntary.

But Jeff Cox has a point, though I would have expressed it differently. The Judicial Qualifications Commission is dominated by big law firms. Plus, using the Commission doesn't rid the system of politics, it puts it behind closed doors. I'm not sure what the answer is. I don't like politics in the system, but politics behind closed doors can be worse than electoral poloitics.

JudgeNot said...

For my two cents...

I participated in the process as a candidate and as a member of a slating committee. The fact is, you cannot remove politics from the process.

I like merit selection because 1) the process is shorter, and 2) candidates aren't soliciting money.

In order to run for Judge in Marion County, the candidates must begin attending political meetings more than 18 months before the slating convention.

And it wasn't $12,000. it was $25,000 last time, although several candidates didn't meet their goal after the slating process.

Gary, the system was changed so that there are NO losers in the general election (as long as no libertarians run) the Republicans and Dems who emerge from the primary win.

Gary R. Welsh said...

Thanks for sharing, JudgeNot. I thought the no loser in the general only applied to the last election due to some changed circumstance peculiar to that election. Thanks for pointing that out.

Gary R. Welsh said...

Even in Chicago they eventually broke up the Cook County judicial elections into districts to force head to head races. At one time, they had what we called a bedsheet ballot. A long list of candidates appeared on the ballot county-wide for all of the open judicial spots. In the general, all the Democrats automatically won. In the primary, candidates tended to be favored based on the ethnically appropriateness of their name. The Operation Greylord investigation finally provided the impetus to change the system, even if it didn't do away with the election of judges altogether.

stevelaudig@gmail.com said...

What is deceptively, an inaccurately, labelled "merit selection" is merely the politics of the elites with judges "elected" by pols [lobbyists and other semi-criminals] rather than the regular people. Boehm was a beneficiary of the wealthy powerful elite politics [Ted probably couldn't have won a "real" election and probably thinks it is "beneath" his station to go out and actually meet the ['dirty rabble'] voters whose lives he has impacted in many ways more directly and personally than any legislator or legislation]. Boehm "campaigned" for his office just as much as any dogcatcher but he did it in the conference rooms of law firms, at fine reception halls wearing a suit and talking to other suits while seated in a comfortable office rather than knocking on doors. Judge slating [indeed ALL slating] by Marion County Democratic in which the payment of money to the party is, in my opinion, a violation of national party anti-discrimination on the basis of wealth rules. Regular voters should place judges in office not lobbyists, not large law firm lawyers and not [in one instance] because the person was a bosom buddy of a former U.S. Senator's wife--that was her major merit. The question of campaign contributions to judges is separate from whether regular people should select those who sit in judgment of them. Don't conflate the two. The manner of electing judges in Marion County [or appointing them in Lake County/Allen/Vanderburgh] seems to me to violate the Indiana Constitution requirement of uniform election laws.

Jeff Cox said...


The "merit" selection process in other states is much more closed door. A group of politically-connected people nobody knows pick their friends and benefactors to be judges. The public can do nothing about it.

There is a significant disconnect between the legal community's assessment of the performance of judges and the general public's assessment. That's how Louis "Loophole Louie" Butler, thrown off the Wisconsin supreme court by angry voters, now has a nomination to the federal bench. The legal community wants to enforce its view with the merit system.

Your complaint that the system for judicial elections in Marion County is broken is well-taken. But it doesn't mean you switch to a merit system that removes all public input, which is a check on judicial power. It means you must improve the current system.