Indiana legislature again tries to alter merit selection in one of only trial courts that have it

Normally Gavel to Gavel does not focus on county-specific issues in state legislatures; a bill to allow for a fee in a specific county court for a specific county fund isn’t normally covered. However, the efforts to change, or end, the merit selection system in place for Indiana’s St. Joseph County Superior Court have been exceptional, thus I will continue to make an exception.

Over the years I’ve mentioned before the numerous efforts to end merit selection for the court, everything from questionably germane amendments to unrelated bills to offers to give the governor extra picks on the state’s court of appeals (which the governor vetoed as an attempt to “purchase” his signature) have been offered up as a way to end merit selection in that particular county and court.

The latest effort (HB 1298), rather than ending it, substantially alters the merit selection system in place and appears to be a compromise effort (h/t Indiana Law Blog)

  1. Commission: the merit selection commission is currently made up of 7 members: an appellate judge (chair), 3 lawyers chosen by the lawyers in the county, and 3 nonattorneys chosen by a committee of local judges . The new commission would be made up of 9 members: 2 lawyers and 7 elected officials (Circuit Judge, Probate Court Judge, head of the county commission, sheriff, and  two mayors).
  2. Return of mandatory retirement: despite statutory changes in 2011 the eliminated the mandatory retirement age for most other trial judges, the judges of the St. Joseph Superior Court would be subject to a mandatory retirement age of 75.
  3. Supermajority retention: rather than getting a 50% + 1 majority of “yes” votes in a retention election, the St. Joseph Superior Court judges would be required to get a 60% “yes” vote.

HB 1298 is pending in the House Courts and Criminal Code committee.