One of the most fundemental underpinnings of the democratic process is the process by which justice is administered. However, it may be somewhat surprising to discover that in some jurisdictions the process by which jurists are elected can be altered by a select few.
This problem has been highlighted recently within central Indiana in regard to the particular manner in which Marion county (Indianapolis) judges have been “elected” for close to ten years.
Brought to the public’s attention by social action group, “Common Cause,” a pending lawsuit against the constitutionality of the judicial election process within Marion County Indiana has been allowed to proceed, thwarting efforts by the state of Indiana to continue with a pending process that has received a broad spectrum of public criticism.
For reasons unbeknownst to many rational observers, in 2006 the Indiana state legislature passed a law affecting Marion County and the procedural process by which judges are to be elected in this county presiding over the city of Indianapolis.
In effect, the law allows for party bosses among both political parties to select what candidates will be eligible for ballot consideration. Thereafter, of twenty four eligible judicial vacancies, an even split of twelve from the Democratic party and twelve from the Republican party will share judicial power despite the popular vote.
Further, and perhaps most harmful to the democratic process is the present reality that only two additional slated candidates from the anointed 24 total from both political parties will be independent of the two party slating process.
As a result, the real campaigning of judicial canditates is no longer focused upon the will of the citizenry of Indianapolis, but has been relegated to appealing to the select few who hold sway as to the slating of aspiring candidates within each respective political party. Once slated, it has become nearly impossible for an independent judicial candidate not backed by the two established political parties to assume one of the vacant judicial benches.
When such power is presently wielded by the unique world views of a Democratic or Republican party chief, the prospect for a judge to pander to those societal views of select individuals and not the majority of voters becomes very real.
One can only surmise that the state legislators in 2006 were so tone deaf as to assume that the public would simply succumb to the will of state law no matter how seemingly irrational and undemocratic it may be. As a defense lawyer in Indianapolis, I shudder to consider the motivations that lead to the enactment of such legislative action, and the backroom dialogue that devised the present election scheme.
The public policy group Common Cause is owed an immense debt of gratitude for exposing the insidious nature by which party bosses have wielded undue influence over the judical election process in central Indiana for nearly ten years.
Although the legal fight against this present arrangement has presently withstood motions to dismiss, the present ruling has merely allowed for legal consideration as to challenges of present law to proceed on its merits.
When the dust settles on the pending legal challenge I am confident that there will be no substantive legal basis by which the efficacy of the present election process in Marion county will continue. It is then that any number of candidates, irrespective of political party, will have equally opportunity to appeal to the citizens of Indianapolis as to the way in which they would impose legal justice.
Equally worthy of consideration from my vantage point are the actions of state legislators who were enabled to escape scrutiny in endorsing legislation that has allowed the public policy of criminal justice to be furthered within the Indianapolis legal community by those indebted to a select few.
Justice can only best be served when the will of the people within a respective community has been represented by a judicial election untainted by backroom dealing and other forms of nepotism.
While my experience before the majority of judges within Marion county has been positive, the prospect for judicial decisions tainted with credibility questions within certain high profile cases lends itself to bolstering confidence in the election process and in turn the foundation of the criminal justice system within Marion county.