Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Code of Judicial Conduct Prohibits Marion County Judicial Candidates From Paying Slating Fee

Former Justice Ted Boehm
Former Indiana Supreme Court Justice Ted Boehm stirred up an interesting debate about how judges are selected in Marion County.  WRTV reports:
A former Indiana Supreme Court justice is calling for changes to the way judges are elected in Marion County, saying they should be appointed, not elected.
In an article in the Indianapolis Business Journal, former Justice Ted Boehm, who retired last fall, called the process "downright screwy."
It comes on the heels of controversy over a campaign event flier circulated by Judge Becky Pierson-Treacy that seemed to offer favorable rulings in exchange for campaign contributions.

Boehm says judges shouldn't be elected but appointed by a select commission in a merit system, eliminating the need to campaign.

To get on the ballot, judges pay a suggested slating fee of about $12,000. Raising that money was the worst part of the job, said former Judge Gary Miller.

"It's very uncomfortable for judges. We go from being this very independent judicial officer, to being a very partisan, political creature," he said.

But Marion County Republican Party Chairman Kyle Walker disagrees with Boehm's push to revamp the process of naming judge, saying the system is fine just the way it is.

"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."
As far as the selection process, I have mixed opinions.  I am not convinced that delegating the task to a judicial cmmission somehow eliminates politics.  Rather it often puts those politics behind closed doors, the worst kind of politics.  I've talked to people who h ave sat on judicial commission and their recounting of political deals and lobbying for candidates behind the scenes, lobbying not based on merit, are a bit disconcerting to say the least.  Then you have the fact big law firms will likely dominate any judicial commission and thus control the selection process.  We actually have a good mix of experience on the bench in the Marion County court system.  Most cases don't involve politics, but when politics does raise its head, that's where concern comes into play.  Remember several years ago when the Marion County superior court judges sat en banc on the legality of the Indianapolis council map drawn by the Republicans?  Democratic judges were all on one side, while Republicans were on the other.
Why, on a straight legal question, did the judges split by party lines?  Slating, that's why.  Marion County judges live in fear they won't get the endorsement of their respective party and things like the drawing of maps are very important to party bosses  To not get slated is almost always fatal.  Don't let anyone tell you slating is about party workers listening to the issues and making informed decisions.  Most voters at slating are appointees of the county chairman and they are there to do his bidding, not represent the party's electorate or even grass roots party workers.
The county chairmen love judicial slating.  A slating fee is about 10% of the judges annual salary or $12,000.  Multiple that by the 10-15 candidates that normally run, and you're talking about a lot of money. 
What is not well-known is that for a judicial candidate to solicit money to pay a slating fee or to pay a slating fee, is a violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct.  Rule 4.1(A)(4) states that judicial candidates may not "solicit funds for, pay an assessment to, or make a contribution to a political organization or a candidate for public office."

How do the Marion County Republican and Democratic chairmen get around the rule?  They claim the judicial slating fees are "voluntary contributions" to the party.   Yeah, right.  What are the odds that a judicial candidate who doesn't pay the county chairman this "voluntary contribution" gets the endorsement of his or her party.  None.  Absolutely none.

I'd be a lot more confident of the Marion County judicial selection process if it were truly voters picking the candidates instead of party bosses.    That might happen if the Commission enforced the "no slating fee" rule instead of going along with the ruse that these are "voluntary contributions" unrelated to endorsement.  Without the slating fee, the corrosive slating process likely would disappear and our judges would be freed from a lot of the partisan influences involved in the selection process.  Judicial candidates should not be required to violate the Judicial Code to curry favor with party bosses.

See Advance Indiana's take on the judicial selection process in Marion County.


Nicolas Martin said...

Rearrange the chairs but it is still the Titanic.

Had Enough Indy? said...

Walker's statement ("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.") is screwy. Both parties have a very small number of insiders actually picking the judges. Slating is a farce that, in action, is the way the chairmen gets their handpicked people in place.

If we really only had two options, which I doubt, I'd rather Mitch Daniels was picking our judges than Treacy or Walker. At least Daniels ran for election.