Civil Discourse Now

Where the far left and far right overlap for fun and enlightenment

Today's topic is "toxic": how do we select judges (with some special attention to Marion County)?


   Are there topics we should be "afraid" to discuss on "Civil Discourse Now"? Two days ago I was told, by people whom I respect, that the topic for this week’s Show is "toxic."

   Thursday I attended a Continuing Legal Education Seminar (CLE) in Bloomington. (I did not attend undergrad there and so do not go "gaga" over memories of Kilroy’s, Zagreb’s, Nick’s, etc., although Wednesday evening I had a nice dinner at Malibu Grill as I outlined transcripts for appeals.) For me, these days, a wild time at an overnight for a conference is to talk constitutional law with colleagues while quaffing a few Bud Selects®. Unfortunately, everyone was in a board meeting that ended about the time I was headed to bed to be asleep by 9 p.m.

   This was a CLE for legal professionals. Our topic on The Show today (April 14, 2012, at 11 a.m.) Is the method by which judges are selected—generally, but also specific to Marion County, in that Paul Ogden—usually acting as co-host—is running in the Republican Party primary for Marion County Superior Court Judge. Paul’s role will be as guest more than host. Also on The Show as guests will be Greg Bowes and Mark King. They are candidates in the Democratic Party for Marion Superior Court Judge.

   All three are lawyers (and are required to be lawyers in order to run for Superior Court Judge). All three are running against their respective party’s slate. All three are parties to a lawsuit filed this week to compel Marion County to release voter registration lists so that they can campaign to voters of their respective party. The voter lists are matters of public record. The primary election is May 5. Each day’s delay in release of the lists is critical as the candidates have less time to try and contact voters.

   Marion County has an odd method of selection of its 36 Superior Court judges. Each of the two major parties runs only half the candidates for court positions. As an example, this year there are 20 seats at stake in the general election. The Republican Party and the Democratic Party each will field 10. That means a candidate’s victory in her or his party’s primary election is a virtual lock in November.

   The primary election is subject to several factors. The most important is whether a candidate has been slated by her or his county party at its slating convention held earlier in the year. At the slating convention, precinct committee people (used to be precinct committeemen, but there is no reason to use a gender-specific noun) gather and vote on whom the county party will back in the primary. One problem is a "slating fee." The two parties say that it is not required. Former judges, no longer vulnerable to the process, say that the slating fee is required if one is to be considered for slating. The parties say something to the effect that it is recommended. I have yet to hear anyone in the legal community, in private conversation, seriously maintain the slating fee is not required. The fees are significant in amount—starting at $12,500, from my understanding. In 2008 I heard that one party’s fee was in the mid-$20,000 range.

   At the slating convention, the precinct people choose whom the party will back. This is an important mater, because, as important as the office of Marion County Superior Court Judge is, very few voters give thought to individual candidates. Principles of democracy depend upon voters casting votes based on an informed choice. With such a large number of candidates, very few voters know much—if anything—about the candidates. This is where slating becomes important. Voters receive cards in the mail, from either party or both, that indicate the party’s judicial "team"—those candidates who have been slated. Oftentimes voters come to the polls with the card in hand, in order to vote for the party’s slate.

   Other factors enter as well. When there are so many candidates in a single column, alphabetical order of last names is important.  Mayor Richard Daley (the first; served 1955-75) insisted he be listed first on the ballot. Because he controlled the then-Chicago Democratic Party machine, his name was at the top of the ballot before the Clerk’s office opened for candidates to enter their names. Sometimes women garner more votes because of their gender. As a native Hoosier, I can say, with some confidence, some people avoid voting for women. Sexism exists and plays out in votes.

   With a Marion County Latino population of nearly 10%, of the 36 Superior Court Judges, I believe only one (1) is Latino. African-Americans comprise roughly 25% of Marion County’s population. Yet slightly more than 10% of the judges are Afro-Americans. I know these judges. They are excellent judicial officers, and officers of the courts. That they have managed to achieve placement on the bench is against the odds.   

   Incumbents, running on the slate, have paid the slating fees more than once—for the coming election as well as at least one prior election. I can understand the frustration of having paid such a high price to the system only to face unslated candidates who simply have tossed names—fully legally but without their respective party’s blessing—into the ring.

   I do not believe in direct election of judges. That will be part of the topic we discuss today on "Civil Discourse Now."  We also shall discuss the current slating system in Marion County. We do the Show at 11 a.m. at Big Hat Books, 6510 Cornell Avenue, Broad Ripple. All are welcome.

   Perhaps the topic of this week’s Show is "toxic." If so, then I only can say that makes it even more important to discuss. I invited both of the major political parties to send representatives to appear on The Show. As of 6:31 a.m. Saturday, I have not received an acceptance from either. I shall check my phone messages when I reach the office.


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