A region lawmaker said Tuesday it was working to help Governor Eric Holcomb take over the decade-long process of selecting superior judges in Lake and St. Joseph counties.
State MP Mike Aylesworth, R-Hebron, told the House Justice Committee that the state’s Republican director general has hired Aylesworth to lead efforts to ensure Holcomb controls a majority of the seats on each district’s nomination committee.
Rachel Hoffmeyer, a spokeswoman for the governor, later insisted that “the governor’s office has not requested this legislation”.
Aylesworth did not immediately respond to a phone message to clarify why he claimed to be obeying the governor’s commandments.
Even so, Aylesworth’s House Bill 1453 would reinstate the nomination commissions as a six-member body, with three governor-appointed voting members, two county commissioners-appointed voting members, and a member of the Indiana Supreme Court as a non-voting 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.”
Lake County Attorney Bernard Carter agreed that the county’s selection process does not require any changes.
He also said it was offensive that Aylesworth would claim the three judicial candidates most recently recommended to the governor were of poor quality.
“He’s absolutely wrong. He doesn’t know his facts. He shouldn’t comment on the Lake County trial,” Carter said. “He’s deliberately misrepresenting the facts.”
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.