Monday, April 2, 2012

Breaking the Marion County Judicial Slating System

I filed for judge in February because I wanted to be a judge and felt my background and temperament would make me a good magistrate.  But I did it for another reason - I hoped my candidacy would help bring an end to judicial slating in Marion County, an endorsement process that has has devolved into party bosses handpicking judges, assuming, of course, the candidates so blessed are willing to fork over at least $12,000 to the party.
Former Marion County Assessor and
Democratic judicial candidate Greg Bowes

In 1992, the Judicial Commission issued an advisory opinion saying that paying a slating fee for a party endorsement is a violation of the Judicial Code of Conduct. Since then the county chairmen have thumbed their nose at the opinion, claiming that the slating fee payments were "voluntary."  That suggestion is roundly mocked by former Marion County judges (the only ones who feel free to talk) who say the fees are in fact mandatory...if you didn't pay, you didn't get slated.  Of the well over 100 Marion County judicial candidates endorsed by the Marion County Republican or Democratic Parties since 1992, not a single one was endorsed without paying the slating fee.

There is a reason to believe that this is the last hurrah for Marion County judicial slating.  The Judicial Commission has before it two complaints about slating.  One of those complaints was filed by yours truly and the other was filed by former Supreme Court Justice Ted Boehm and former Court of Appeals Judge Sue Shields.  Then we have the comments of Governor Mitch Daniels' trashing the Marion County judicial slating system during the announcement of the appointment of Mark Massa to the Supreme Court.  Gov. Daniels called the Marion County judicial slating system a "travesty" and said it was wrong that judgeships in Indianapolis are "purchased" with party support and the payment of slating fees.  I have a suspicion that "advisory" opinion of 1992 will be replaced by something with teeth.

Judge Carol Orbison
This election, the judicial slate is being challenged by two Republicans and two Democrats.  They include Judge Carol Orbison and myself on the Republican side, and on the Democratic side, former Marion County Assessor Greg Bowes and attorney Mark King. This level of opposition to the slate is unusual. Since 2000, there have only been five primaries where the judicial slate was challenged.  Sean Harshey, a Republican challenger to the slate failed in the 2000 and 2002 primary.  Democrats were more successful.  While Karen Celestino-Horseman failed to beat the judicial slate in 2006, Linda Brown beat the slate in 2000 and Kimberly Brown beat the slate in 2008.  In fact, Kimberly Brown was spectacularly successful in her bid, finishing second place and beating out the lowest slated candidate by 18,000 votes.  In these "list" type of low-profile races, women who are low in the alphabetic order tend to do better.

A friend of mine told me that sitting Marion County judges would be angry should I be successful in ending slating. Quite the contrary.  Judges hate slating and raising money to pay the party chairmen for an endorsement. They would celebrate the end of slating...or at least the requirement that they pay a slating fee.

My hope is that my campaign will show judicial candidates that the Republican electorate does not like being denied its right to pick judges and is willing to reward a candidate who takes a stand against the payment of slating fees to party bosses for an endorsement.  The fact that payment of a slating fee could turn out to be a negative in a competitive primary may well effectively end the practice.


Jon E. Easter said...

I would hate to see a good judge like Mark Stoner be kicked out of office because people voted alphabetically.

Paul K. Ogden said...

Jon, agreed. That is one thing the legislature needs to address. Why do we employ alphabetical order? Do a blind draw before printing the ballot or shuffle them from ballot to ballot if that's possible. The use of alphabetical order is not fair.

Sean Patrick Rodriguez said...

Unless of course your name happens to be Aaron Ableson

Cato said...

A blind draw is the only fair way of deciding ballot placement.

As parties are not up for election, any more than is Candidate X's membership in the Moose Lodge, parties should also be stricken from every ballot.