Frances Williams will only vote for one of the 17 judges running for re-election this year. "I"m voting for Z. Mae Jimison because she is the only judicial candidate I know about," said Williams, a 64-year-old Northwestside city resident. "I like her because of the good work she does in the community and for how she treats people who enter into her drug court." Williams, who has not missed a chance to cast an election ballot since 1959, said she would like to vote for some of the other judges vying for Marion County Superior Court"s 15 open posts, but "it"s very difficult to find information on these people, so I usually leave that part of my ballot blank." "The judges are really treated like step children in an election," said Williams. "No television advertisements or debates, how does one even begin to make an informed decision?" Williams raises a valid question: How does the average voter determine who best to be judge? The US Supreme Court set precedent in June, in the case of The Minnesota Republican Party vs. White, when it clarified how to balance the First Amendment rights of candidates for judicial office to speak against the rights of litigants and of the public to a fair and impartial judiciary. "The Court said that the First Amendment takes precedent over state canons that prevent candidates from publicly speaking about their views on various issues," said Lorri Montgomery, communications manager for the National Center for State Courts. "Judicial canons have oftentimes prevented judges from speaking openly about certain issues that the judge may have to rule on in future cases." These ethical rules distinguish judicial campaigns from others. "Judges don"t campaign in the traditional way most people are used to seeing candidates run for office because of the nature of their positions," said William Blomquist, an associate professor of political science at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis. "So voters are not going to have a barrage of information rushing at their fingertips, they have to do a bit more work to learn about judicial candidates." Judicial candidates typically compete on the basis of knowledge, qualifications and experience, said Blomquist. The reason many voters will not see judges knocking on their doors, kissing babies and spewing platforms and promises is that much of election campaigning conflicts with the judicial job description. "A platform violates judicial ethics," said Blomquist. "Judges are supposed to be impartial and fair and base decisions on the law and not their beliefs. "The last thing the public would want is for a judge to tell people how they would potentially rule on cases before they heard all the evidence." Also, the rigors of raising campaign funds may put judges in compromising situations. "Most states elect their trial judges, and these judicial elections go back to the times of President Andrew Jackson where the thought process was that every public office should be an elected position accountable to the public," said Blomquist. "And in that respect the position of judge is no different than some of the other elected offices like Auditor, Assessor, etc., but elections and the nature of campaigning is a lot different now and when you"re dealing with matters of law there tends to be a feeling that you don"t want there to be any appearance of any conflicts of interest. So now many people are seriously looking at the pros and cons of judicial appointments." As it stands now, Indiana is one of 39 states that elect trial judges, according to the National Center for State Courts, a Virginia-based judicial education and training center. Although the state elects trial judges, appellate court judges are appointed through a process where a committee of civic and community leaders provides a list of three to five potential candidates from which the Governor chooses one. Every 10 years the Governor"s judicial appointment is up for what is called retention, appearing on an election ballot for voters to say yea or nea. "The Indiana State Bar Association and the Indiana Judges Association have taken the position that partisan elections are not a particularly good way to select judges," said Randall T. Shepard, chief justice of the Indiana State Supreme Court. In Marion County, the judicial election process is not only partisan, but very unusual when compared to other county systems, said Shepard. "It"s unusual in the sense that there are so many candidates running during the same cycle," said Shepard. "With usually more than a dozen candidates running at one time, I don"t see how any reasonable voter can sort his or her way through it all and if you study the voting patterns of people you see that many people do not vote for those positions." There are some resources available to help voters learn more about candidates, but legal professionals say more could be done. Before every primary election the Indianapolis Bar Association conducts a judicial evaluation of those candidates seeking re-election. Candidates are rated on a scale of 0 to 5 in various categories, with 5 being most favorable. "We decided several years ago to perform the evaluation because we as lawyers found it challenging to find ways to measure the various candidates," said John Maley, IBA president. "But people can also try to get information from the county Democrat, Republican or Libertarian headquarter offices and newspapers. "But there is still a shortage of information out there." Candidates Charles J. Deiter, Patricia J. Gifford, David Shaheed and Gary L. Miller were among the highly recommended choices in IBA"s April 2002 Judicial Evaluation - available to the public at the organization"s offices at 107 N. Pennsylvania St. Candidates not recommended by the IBA were N. Sean Harshey, who did not make the primary cut, and Frances Williams" election choice - Z. Mae Jimison. "She oftentimes gets in trouble with her peers for her outspokenness and the way she does things," said Williams. "But I know more about her than anybody else. And I vote for who and what I know about."

0
0
0
0
0