Governor Eric Holcomb seeks to adopt the decade-long process of selecting higher-level judges in Counties Lake and St. Joseph.
State MP Mike Aylesworth, R-Hebron, told the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday that the state’s Republican director general has hired Aylesworth to lead efforts to ensure Holcomb has a majority of the seats on each district’s nomination committee controlled.
To that end, Aylesworth filed the 1453 House Bill and restored the nomination committees as a six-member body with three governor-appointed voting members, two county commissioners-appointed voting members, and one non-voting member of the Indiana Supreme Court chairman.
The legislation would eliminate the commissioners currently selected by Lake County’s attorneys, as well as the existing legal requirement that commissioners reflect the diversity of Lake County’s population.
Aylesworth said the governor believes the recent judicial candidates recommended by the commission to fill vacancies at Lake Superior Court lacked the experience and qualifications Holcomb would like to see in his judicial appointments.
“It’s a very partisan and very biased selection process,” said Aylesworth. “This is something that needs updating.”
At the same time, Aylesworth conceded that allowing the governor to select three of the five voting members of the commission almost ensures that the judicial candidates recommended only to the governor belong to the same political party as the governor – which increases the bias of the selection process.
Munster attorney Angela Jones, president of the Lake County Bar Association, firmly opposed Aylesworth’s proposal.
She noted that the last eight Lake County judges appointed were evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats.
Jones said that this is how the process is supposed to work by finding the most qualified people regardless of bias, and the local lawyers have unique knowledge in this regard that cannot be ignored.
“We have a knowledgeable and diverse bank because of the makeup of the nominations committee,” said Jones. “Our current system works.”
The Republican-controlled panel eventually voted 6-4 on a party-political basis to extend Aylesworth’s restructuring plan to the entire House.
Lake and St. Joseph counties are among the only four in the state where the selection of merit by the governor, followed by electoral confirmation of the election of the governor two years later, is the selection process for judges of higher courts.
The judges in the state’s 88 other counties reach the bank through partisan elections.