Monday, November 21, 2011

Marion County Judicial Candidates Should Say "No" To Slating Fees

With the end of the municipal election season begins the judicial election season in Marion County.  This county has an unusual election system in that by statute the judicial positions are to be no more than 50% of one party.  The practical effect of that rule is that all the Republican and Democratic judicial candidates who win their party's nomination in May win the election.  This election cycle, the parties will each nominate 9 candidates.   Eighteen will assume the bench following the November election.

In Marion County, the party organizations "slate" candidates. Slating is an endorsement process by which the county party determines which candidates the organizations want to support going into the primary.   Virtually no other county political organization in Indiana slates candidates.  On paper, slating is a process by which hard-working, often elected precinct committeemen are rewarded for their work on behalf of the party with a signficant say in the nomination process.  In practice, due to the large number of vacancies that can be filled by the county chair before slating, the endorsement process is dominated by the county chairman and his lieutenants. For every hard-working precinct committeeman attending slating, there generally are at least two county chairman appointees in place to outvote the PC.  While we have some terrific judges in Marion County, it is despite the current system, not because of it.

The corrosive effect of the slating process is evident from the vote of the Marion County judges on the drawing of a new city-county council map following the 2000 census.  Republican judges all sided with the Republican county chairman's position, while Democratic judges all sided with the Democratic leadership's position.  It took a unanimous Indiana Supreme Court to break the deadlock and draw the council map used for the next decade.

Should any of the judges have crossed over on the issue of the council map, he or she would have surely been a target for replacement at the next slating.

While Marion County's slating process is bad for judicial selection, it is even more egregious when coupled with slating fees.  Slating fees from judges is a way party chairman refill the coffers following an election.  There may be as many as 15 judges seeking the 9 judicial positions each party is to fill.  Each candidate will be expected to pay to the county chairman, 10% of the annual judicial salary as a slating fee.  In other words, each judicial candidate will be expected to pay about $12,000 to the county chairman to be slated.

Where does that money come from?  Judges often have to solicit that money from attorneys and others interested in the legal system.  Other judicial candidates will borrow the money.  I have heard stories of judicial candidates taking out second mortgages on their home to pay a slating fee.

Slating fees, however, are specifically prohibited by the Indiana Code of Judicial Conduct.  The way the party chairman have gotten around this ethical rule is to call such fees "voluntary."  But in reality, slating fees are not "voluntary" if payment of them by judicial candidates is expected and candidates are not going to be slated without paying those fees.

Judicial candidates should band together this election cycle and collectively say "no" to the county chairmen when it comes time to pay slating fees.


artfuggins said...

If a judge has to take out a second mortgage to pay a $12,000 slating fee, how would that same judge finance an election without slating? If slating was not used, a judge easily could need $250,000 to get elected. Slating usually works to weed out those not ready and select those who are qualified. Yes, there are those who slip through the cracks. But look at our ELECTED state officials who do not undergo slating. Richard Murdoch and Charlie White would be two prime examples.

Ben said...


Dennis Fishburn was there ya go

Paul K. Ogden said...
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Paul K. Ogden said...


A judge running at-large in Marion County is not going to spend anything close to $250,000 running in a primary, even without slating. (Remember there is no general election to speak of.) It's a low profile race. It's a similar race to at-large council. They didn't spend $250K apiece in the primary.

You actually believe slating is about weeding out those not qualified? If you think that, I have a bridge I'd like to sell you. If you believe that you're clearly willing to drink the Kool-Aid.

Gary R. Welsh said...

Mourdock and White were both slated; they weren't chosen by primary voters. There are no attorneys in Marion County who would say with a straight face that slating produces the best judicial candidates; it only produces the candidates who had the best political connections to get slated. The most qualified attorneys never run for judge in Marion County because they are so repulsed by the selection method and what they have to do to get slated. If they are going to be elected, then they should at least run in judicial districts where they have to run head to head against other candidates in a much smaller jurisdiction. There should be no automatic electing of all of the judicial candidates on the general election ballot running at large.

Paul K. Ogden said...

Mourdock and White went through the convention process which isn't quite as bad as Marion County slating. It's still an insider process, though at least the convention delegates are elected. Most pc's voting in slating are appointed by the county chairman and of course all the ward chairman voting are appointed.

artfuggins said...

What about Danny Burton? Was he slated? Could he be slated? Is he a product of letting the chips fall where they may? How do you explain the embarrassment that he has become but the GOP continues to re elect him.

Paul K. Ogden said...

Art, Burton would have only went through slating in Marion County. His district has never included more than just a portion of the county.

Do you really want to play this game of picking and choosing certain examples to support your position? It is so disingenous.

I have been active in the GOP since 1986. I know how the game is played. The notion that slating is somehow about the quality of the candidate is a joke. It is about county chairman and other party leaders controlling who ultimately gets nominated.

Marycatherine Barton said...

I also call on all the judicial candidates to band together, stand tall, and refuse to pay slating fees this year. Just dreaming!