April 26, 2016-Many of the region’s ideas come from The Times, whether in the form of editorial policy or news coverage. Through their affiliated organization, One Region, and their extremely close connection to republican lawmakers, they are able to push legislation in ways that the ordinary citizen cannot. So when they suggest taking away your vote, people should take notice.
In an editorial on Sunday, NWI Times Investigative Editor Marc Chase points out some of the ways in which politics have infected Judge George C. Paras’ courtroom. Among them, Chase points out that political power broker Jewell Harris, Jr. is a magistrate in Paras’ courtroom. Instead of looking at how magistrates are selected, The Times suggests that the Lake Circuit Judge should be appointed rather than elected. The process for appointment of judges has been plagued with its own special corruption since its inception. This isn’t the first time that The Times/One Region board has pushed for disenfranchising voters in judicial elections.
The Indiana Constitution provides that circuit court judges shall be elected. Our founders believed that an informed citizenry would choose the best candidate available. All counties in Indiana elected superior court judges until 1973. At that time, the Indiana Legislature stripped the right to vote for superior court judges from citizens in Lake County and placed the power in the hands of a judicial nominating commission. The judicial nominating commission has nine members-4 attorneys selected by attorneys, 4 non-attorneys selected by the Lake County Commissioners, and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court our his designee.
Removing accountability from the citizenry should never be taken lightly. This is particularly true when we look at the history of the Lake County Judicial Nominating Commission. Four of the members of the Commission, those who will choose our judges, are appointed by the Lake County Commissioners. To suggest that somehow removes politics from the equation is ludicrous. Add to the mix that we have had at least one member of the Judicial Nominating Commission and several county commissioners who have gone to jail on federal corruption charges and there is a recipe for total chaos.
Even determining who is on the Lake County Judicial Nominating Commission is a herculean task. Last year, after reports from members of the Lake County bar that some appointments had not been properly made, the Gazette requested records relating to the selection of those who nominate our judges and we were shuffled back and forth between Lake Circuit Clerk Mike Brown, the Indiana Supreme Court and the Indiana Secretary of State. We never obtained those records despite numerous requests. Right now, as I write this article, I have to tell you that I have no idea who is responsible for selecting superior court judges in Lake County.
In 1995, after continuing complaints that the judicial nominating commission was not selecting women and minority candidates, the legislature required that four of the appointees be men, four must be women and that one attorney and one non-attorney must be minorities. Two of the appointments by the Lake County Commissioners must be Democrat and two must be Republican. In 2014, after repeated complaints from St. John Attorney Joe Hero, Justice Rucker of the Indiana Supreme Court halted the judicial selection process because the Lake County Commissioners had not appointed a Republican male as required by law.
The Lake Circuit Court has long been plagued by a cloud of corruption and partisan politics. In 1988, the Indiana Judicial Qualifications Commission, the State body that is charged with overseeing qualifications of judges, “initiated formal proceedings to inquire into charges of misconduct against Lake Circuit Court Judge Lorenzo Arredondo. He was accused of seven counts of misconduct involving the exchange of cash for favorable resolution of traffic charges.” (See In the Matter of the Honorable Lorenzo Arredondo, appended below). Lake Circuit Court Judge Arredondo, through his attorneys, responded that the statute of limitations had run on the charges and they were dismissed. In short, a sitting judge was accused of taking bribes and the case was dismissed on the grounds that the statute of limitations had run. We should emphasize that there was no judgment on the merits of the claims and that a bringing of charges is not evidence of guilt.
Paras himself was elected to the position under a cloud of political favoritism. Judge Arredondo had become a formidable figure in Lake County politics and most attorneys in Lake County were afraid to challenge him. Judge Arredondo and then Magistrate Paras are alleged to have seized on that power by conspiring to keep the retirement of Judge Arredondo a secret until the last day to file to run. The two reportedly traveled to Indianapolis together to file the paperwork for Paras to run for the office. The prevailing wisdom is that, had attorneys in Lake County known that Judge Arredondo was going to retire, there would have been more challengers for the position.
Politics and corruption creep into our judiciay not a result of apathy but as a result of a monopoly on the information that is disseminated in Lake County. Most citizens have a single venue from which to obtain the news related to County government and the multi-billion dollar shenanigans that take place. Intentional or not, that news is filtered by numerous constraints including limited resources and personal bias. Add to the mix Indiana’s weak public record laws, and you have a citizenry that becomes frustrated and apathetic when it comes to voting. i say we can do better, we can educate voters and we can make the system work. The naysayers suggest taking away your right to vote.
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See the Court’s full opinion In The Matter of the Honorable Lorenzo Arredondo here https://secure.in.gov/judiciary/jud-qual/files/jud-qual-opin-arrendondo-lorenzo.pdf