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Legislation Would Change Judge Exception for St. Joseph County

February 24, 2009

Superior Court judges in northern Indiana’s Saint Joseph County, which includes South Bend, could be elected, rather than appointed, if a bill sponsored by Mishawaka Democrat Craig Fry becomes law. The legislation would require superior court judges in Saint Joseph County specifically to be selected in nonpartisan elections. Right now, they’re chosen using a system called merit selection, where a committee in the county submits names to the governor, who then makes the final pick.
Only Lake County uses the same system. Indiana’s other 90 counties have some form of election for their judges.
Proponents of the bill say judges aren’t held accountable under the present system. Voters decide whether to retain the judges every six years, but no judge in St. Joseph County has ever lost one of those elections.
St. Joseph Superior Court Chief Judge Michael Scopelitis opposes the measure. He says electing judges would expose them to political pressure.

“When citizens understand what merit selection is really about, they overwhelmingly support it over a popularly elected judge. Because basically, people do not want their judges taking money from people, lawyers, organizations and special interest groups that are going to wind up appearing in front of that judge.”

An amendment in the House limits the amount of campaign contributions a judge could receive. The bill now awaits action in the Indiana Senate.

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