State Rep. Vernon G. Smith (D-Gary) proposed two amendments to address House Bill 1453’s aim to give the governor more control in selecting judges in four counties, including Lake County. Unfortunately, the amendments were voted down.
HB 1453 shifts the number of members in the Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) from nine to five and keeps the number of judges selected by the governor to three. The proposed changes to the statute allows for the governor to now appoint the majority of the commission’s members, as well as a non-voting chairman.
Currently, almost all counties in Indiana allow the public to elect their local judges in some form. However, in Lake, St. Joseph, Marion and Vanderburgh counties, judicial candidates are nominated by the JNC and appointed by the governor. Smith’s first amendment would have applied HB 1453’s nominating commission structure to all 92 counties.
“If this merit-based selection process is so good, then I think the whole state should have the same process,” said Smith. “If it’s good for the goose, it ought to be good for the gander.
“It’s no coincidence that the two counties being targeted in this bill are predominately Democrat. Judges should reflect the community they preside over. The system as it is does a good job at that, so why change it?
“We ought to do what is best for this state and not what benefits a political agenda.”
Smith’s second amendment proposed an interim study committee to discuss the topic of the composition of the judicial nominating commissions of Lake and St. Joseph counties.
“This bill seems rushed and in committee, we had little time to discuss both the pros and cons of the changes proposed. There has certainly not been enough time for those affected by this bill to testify on it and I’d like to make this decision more democratic by establishing an interim study committee.
“The term ‘convenient democracy’ comes to my mind when I think about how few opportunities we had to hear from our constituents and concerned parties.”