17 Marion County judges begin new retention process, 3 opt to retire

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The Indiana Lawyer on 2/21/2018 by Marilyn Odendahl

Marion County will start its new judicial selection process next month with the interviews of 17 judges who want to stand for retention in the November 2018 elections. Three other judges — Democrats Thomas Carroll and Rebekah Pierson-Treacy and Republican Michael Keele — have decided to retire at the end of this year.

The interviews are part of the new method Marion County is using to select judges. The Indiana General Assembly passed a bill, over much opposition, in 2017 that implemented a merit selection process for choosing judges in the state’s most populous county. House Enrolled Act 1036 established a 14-member Marion County Judicial Selection Committee to review candidates and incumbents and make recommendations for retention.

Chaired by Indiana Supreme Court Justice Mark Massa, the Marion County Judicial Selection Committee will interview the incumbent trial court judges in retention class I whose terms expire in 2018. (The 16 judges whose terms expire in 2020 are part of retention class II.) The interviews, which are open to the public, will be March 12 and 13 in room 319 of the Indiana Statehouse.

At the end of the process, the committee will announce its findings as to whether a judge is qualified to continue to serve. All 17 judges will then appear on the November 2018 ballot for voters to determine if they will stay on the bench for another term.

Judges seeking retention are: Lisa Borges, Linda Brown, Sheila Carlisle, John MT Chavis II, Steven Eichholtz, Alicia Gooden, Clayton Graham, John Hanley, Grant Hawkins, Amy Jones, James Joven, Helen Marchal, William Nelson, Clark Rogers, Jose Salinas, Mark Stoner and Heather Welch.  The commission’s interview schedule can be found here.

Carroll, Pierson-Treacy and Keele have decided not to stand for retention. Pierson-Treacy and Keele were both elected in 2000. Carroll has been a judge since 1988.

To replace them, the selection committee will take applications electronically and recommend three candidates for each of these three vacancies. As with open seats on the state appellate courts, Gov. Eric Holcomb will have 60 days to appoint the new judges from the names submitted by the committee.

The statute requires that the balance of Democrats and Republicans in the Marion County courts stay the same. So the committee will offer to the governor a total of six candidates for the Democratic seats and three names for the Republican seat.

Keele, Pierson-Treacy and Carroll all had judicial experience when they were elected to the Superior Court. Keele, a graduate of Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law, served in Marion County Small Claims Court. Carroll and Pierson-Treacy, both graduates of Indiana University Maurer School of Law, served as a master commissioner for the Marion Superior Court and as Marion County Municipal Court Judge respectively.

The Indianapolis Bar Association strongly recommended Keele be retained during the 2012 elections. Looking at experience, legal knowledge, efficiency and ability to be unbiased, 95.4 percent of the evaluators recommended Keele be retained. The numbers were lower for the other two with Carroll being recommended by 68.5 percent and Pierson-Treacy just 30.7 percent.

Before the 2012 election, Pierson-Treacy was admonished by the Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualification for violating the rules of judicial conduct. In November 2011, the commission issued the public admonishment after Pierson-Treacy sent campaign fundraising letters that seemed to imply certain giving levels would translate into favorable court rulings.

Democratic and Republican lawmakers as well as the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus opposed HEA 1036, asserting the change to merit selection was racially biased against minorities and would deprive the voters of their right to choose. Some anticipated the new law would be challenged in court, but no lawsuits have been filed.

Previously, Marion County voters could cast their ballot for a roster of 36 judges evenly split between the Democratic and Republican parties. The former “slating” system in which judicial candidates contributed to the county party organization to gain the party’s blessing as its “slate” of candidates, was struck down in 2015 by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Under the new system, a committee will recommend both the judges to who should be retained and judicial candidates who should be appointed to the bench.

Members of the Marion County Judicial Selection Committee are: Justice Mark Massa, chair, Court of Appeals Judge Cale Bradford, vice chair, Billie Breaux, Cordelia Lewis Burks, Bryce A. Carpenter, Lee C. Christie, Susan E. Cline, K. Michael Gaerte, Rick Hurst, Katherine (Katie) F. Jackson-Lindsay, Lacy M. Johnson, Andrew J. Mallon, Adrianne L. Slash and Jennifer Thuma.