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Court Strikes Down Long-Standing Marion County Judge Sharing Plan

Joe Gratz

Marion County’s system of electing judges has been deemed illegal after a federal appeals court ruling; which leaves the unanswered question of what will replace it.

Last week the appeals court unanimously ruled the system denied voters a genuine choice.

For 40 years, Marion County has allowed Democrats and Republicans to nominate half the year's Superior Court candidates to all but ensure an evenly split bench. The major-party slates have not been challenged by a third-party candidate since 2002.

John Kautzman, an Indianapolis attorney, co-chairs the group Attorneys for an Independent Bench, a committee created by the Indianapolis Bar Association to set guidelines for contributions to judicial candidates’ campaigns.

Kautzman says that committee will discuss possible alternatives to propose to the legislative decision.

“I think at this juncture we, at the Bar Association, simply need to continue to keep the issue on the front burner, talk about the probable solutions to this issue and be poised and ready to offer up suggestions at the appropriate time,” Kautzman says.

But he says it's too soon to say whether the committee will look for a way to preserve an aura of nonpartisanship.

Eighty-seven of Indiana's 92 counties pit Republicans and Democrats against each other for judgeships. But Allen and Vanderburgh County judges run in nonpartisan elections. And Lake and Saint Joseph Counties don't elect judges at all -- they're appointed.

Kautzman notes the state might still appeal the ruling to the U-S Supreme Court.

“One of the parties through the case might still appeal it through the US Supreme Court, so we’ll have to be mindful of that. But in the meantime I think we’re just going to gather the group together and start talking through possible solutions and figure out if we can come up with a consensus,” Kautzman says.

Marion County has no judicial elections until 2018.

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