Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Paul Ogden running for Marion Superior Court

I would be remiss if I did not call attention to my blogging and webcast pal Paul Ogden and his campaign for Marion Superior Court judge.  A bit of a maverick campaign, since he (horrors!) was not slated by the Marion County Republican Party.  But to many of us, that's not a bug, that's a feature:
While I believe wholeheartedly in my Marion County Republican Party, I am disappointed that the power and authority of grass roots party workers has been virtually eliminated in favor of party bosses calling the shots.  When I first started in 1986, party workers still had real influence and elected officials knew they had to stay in touch with those workers to be endorsed by the party.  Slating conventions featured numerous races that had had multiple candidates eagerly seeking out the support of party workers. 

A couple weeks ago, the Marion County GOP had a slating convention at which 16 of 17 races were uncontested.  The only contested race was for Superior Court Judge.  In that race, several Republican judicial candidates had withdrawn before slating with the exception of Judge Carol Orbison.  Judge Orbison said during her speech to the convention that she was told a committee of power brokers had met before slating and decided she should not run for re-election.  She did not heed that warning and was not slated, though she has filed to run in the primary.  The fact is, party leaders now appoint the vast majority of those who vote at slating, people who just to show up and vote the way leadership wants them to vote.  Candidates know party bosses have almost complete control over the endorsement process.

But when it comes to slating of judges, there is an additional problem.  It is a violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct to pay slating fees, according to a 1992 opinion by the Judicial Qualifications Commission.   The party chairmen claim that slating fees, which total at least $12,000, are "not mandatory."  Yet since that 1992 opinion there has never been a judge slated who hasn't paid the fee.  Retired judges all say the slating fee is mandatory.  Nobody is being fooled with the claim that slating fees for judges are "voluntary."

I refuse to pay a slating fee in violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct.  I also don't think party bosses, sitting in a room, should pick the Marion County judges.  Party workers and the party electorate should be the ones putting those judges on the court.

Although we have many fine judges in Marion County, the current system undermines the independence and impartiality of the judges.  As provided by the notes to the Code of Judicial Conduct, "judges and judicial candidates must, to the greatest extent possible, be free, and appear to be free, from political influence, and partisan interests."  When partisan issues come before the court, judges, faced with the possibility of not being slated next time, are under an enormous pressure to rule the "right way," i.e. the way the party bosses want them to rule.  No better example exists than the Peterson v. Borst case a few years ago in which every Republican judge voted for the plan passed by the Republican majority to redistrict the Indianapolis council and every Democratic judge voted against it.   (To clarify, there were judges who abstained from the vote.)

Judges should not be players beholden to one side or another.  They should be umpires with their decisions flowing from the constitutions, statutes and rules which judges are sworn to uphold.   Ours is not a system in which the laws should apply differently based on who is standing before the tribunal  Yet that sadly is too often the case.  I promise that as a judge everyone will stand before me with equal footing.  I do not care if one side is a big corporation represented by the most politically connected downtown law firm while the other side is a person too poor to afford an attorney.  The law is the law is the law.  If the law is with the pro se litigant, that person wins.  Period.

While I don't always agree with him (ahem! Charlie White ahem!), Paul Ogden is a thoughtful and honest attorney who would make a great judge.  He will have my support.  Check him out and give him a look-see for yourself.

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