When voters head to the polls on Election Day, Nov. 6, they will make their way through all the familiar races including Senate, House, and a myriad of local candidates.
After they get through all that, they'll be asked a series of questions for which they may not be prepared even if they studied the rest of the races closely.
They'll be asked if Indiana Supreme Court Justice Geoffrey G. Slaughter should be retained.
Then, they'll be asked if Court of Appeals—District 2 Judge Robert R. “Bob” Altice, Jr. should be retained.
And, then, voters will be asked the same question 17 more times as it relates to Marion County Superior Court Judges.
As NUVO found out when these judges were sent the Midterm Voters Guide questions submitted by our readers, it only gets more challenging from there
The following judges are up for retention in the Marion County Superior Court: Lisa F. Borges, Linda E. Brown, Sheila A. Carlisle, John M. T. Chavis II, Steven R. Eichholtz, Alicia A. Gooden, Clayton A. Graham, John F. Hanley, Grant W. Hawkins, Amy M. Jones, James A. Joven, Helen W. Marchal, William J. Nelson, Clark H. Rogers, Jose D. Salinas, Mark D. Stoner, and Heather Welch.
But, you won't be hearing from any of them.
“Thank you for your commitment to providing voters with information about the upcoming election,” wrote Emily A. VanOsdol, court administrator for the Marion Superior Court, to NUVO on Sept. 14.
“Unfortunately, the judges are unable to respond to reader questions related to cases that could come before the Marion Superior Court or questions that would require them to champion their own retention.”
VanOsdol pointed to the Indiana Code of Judicial Conduct, Canon 4 and Rule 2.1, which specifically prevents judges on the retention ballot from campaigning. The code also prevents judges from giving opinions about cases that could come before them.
“The policy behind these rules is so the public can have confidence in the judiciary’s duty to remain impartial,” stated VanOsdol.
Marion County moved to a merit selection process to choose and retain its Superior Court judges in 2017. All incumbent Marion Superior Court judges appeared before the selection committee for a recommendation as to whether they should be retained. The committee unanimously recommended retention for all 17 incumbent judges who will appear on the November ballot. If retained, the judge is on the retention ballot at the end of every six-year term.
“They can't campaign. They can't answer questions,” said Rhea Cain, president of the League of Women Voters of Indianapolis. “Yeah, they're on the ballot, but no one knows much about them. They don't know what they've decided, but yet we're supposed to put them in office.”
So, how should voters educate themselves?
Kathryn Dolan, Indiana Supreme Court chief public information officer, told NUVO on Sept. 17 that Justices Slaughter and Altice were under similar constraints.
Indiana has used a merit selection process to choose and retain its appellate judges for the past 46 years. Once appointed, a judge must stand for retention at the first statewide general election after the judge has served for two full years. If retained, the judge is on the retention ballot every 10 years.
Dolan said the court created a website to help educate voters, which contains biographical information, video of oral arguments, and the ability to search decisions written or voted on by the judges.
Oct. 4, the Indiana State Bar Association completed its compilation of the 2018 Judicial Retention Poll responses. ISBA members were electronically surveyed from Sept. 13 to 30. Of the 10,530 members polled, 968 cast ballots, and the results overwhelmingly favored retention of Slaughter (90.35 percent) and Altice (89.67 percent).
Cain said additional information from the LWV is available at vote411.org.
After this story was originally published, we discovered additional documents, including party affiliations, with the continued help of Cain and a very motivated reader. Here is the self-declared party breakdown of the Marion County Superior Court judges:
- Linda E. Brown
- John M. T. Chavis II
- Steven R. Eichholtz
- John F. Hanley
- Grant W. Hawkins
- Jose D. Salinas
- Mark D. Stoner
- Heather Welch
- Lisa F. Borges
- Shelia A. Carlisle
- Alicia A. Gooden
- Clayton Graham
- Amy M. Jones
- James A. Joven
- Helen Marchal
- William (Bill) Nelson
- Clark Rogers
Cain told NUVO that when she called the Indiana Election Division, they stated the party information is not required to be included on the ballot for judges by state law, so it is not included.
Indiana statue requires them to declare a party on filing for retention, Cain explained.
“This is so, via an internal process, it can be determined that no party has a majority over another when it comes to judges in Marion County,” she said.
Our reader, Noelle Leigh, took things quite a bit further when she provided NUVO with incumbent submissions, statements of economic interest, writing samples, and head shots of all 17 judges. Justice Mark Massa, Marion County Judicial Selection Committee chairman, originally filled Leigh's record request.
“The information in this application may be considered a public record and disclosed in response to a request for public records under Indiana Code chapter 5-14-3,” states the top of each incumbent submission.
A subsequent records request by NUVO for the statements of intent filed by each of the Marion County judges with Connie Lawson, Indiana Secretary of State, was filled by Brad King, Indiana Election Division co-director.
Indiana Code 3-8-2-7 sets forth the standard for determining the political party affiliation of a candidate who files a declaration of candidacy for a primary election. The political party affiliation of the candidate is deemed to be: the political party in whose primary in Indiana the candidate most recently voted; or the political party of the county chair of the county in which the candidate resides who certifies that the candidate is a member of that political party.
On Friday, Nov. 2, Emily A. VanOsdol sent out another press release on behalf of the Marion County Superior Court restating the process of electing judges based on the retention process:
Marion County moved to a merit selection process to choose and retain its Superior Court judges in 2017. All incumbent Marion Superior Court judges appeared before the selection committee for a recommendation as to whether they should be retained. The committee unanimously recommended retention for all 17 incumbent judges who will appear on the November ballot.
If retained, the judge is on the retention ballot at the end of every six (6) year term. The retention system is designed to allow judges to decide cases fairly and impartially, free from campaign finance considerations and without influence by partisan politics.
Judges seeking retention are: Judge Lisa F. Borges, Judge Linda E. Brown, Judge Sheila A. Carlisle, Judge John Chavis, Judge Steven R. Eichholtz, Judge Alicia A. Gooden, Judge Clayton Graham, Judge John F. Hanley, Judge Grant W. Hawkins, Judge Amy M. Jones, Judge James A. Joven, Judge Helen Marchal, Judge William (Bill) Nelson, Judge Clark Rogers, Judge Jose Salinas, Judge Mark D. Stoner, and Judge Heather Welch.