Retention election lets voters decide whether to keep, dump judges

2012-10-07T00:00:00Z 2012-10-08T10:40:04Z Retention election lets voters decide whether to keep, dump judgesBy Dan Carden dan.carden@nwi.com, (317) 637-9078 nwitimes.com
October 07, 2012 12:00 am  • 

INDIANAPOLIS | In addition to the dozens of candidates for local, state and federal offices that Hoosiers will elect on Nov. 6, Northwest Indiana residents will help decide whether two Indiana Supreme Court justices and three judges on the state's Court of Appeals will remain in their posts.

The justices and judges are running in what's known as a "retention" election. They don't have an opponent; instead voters decide "yes" or "no" on whether the candidate should be retained for a 10-year term.

Retention elections are the only opportunity for voters to have a say in who serves on the state's supreme and appellate courts.

In 1970, Hoosiers amended the Indiana Constitution to eliminate direct election of state court judges and decided that lawyers and judges seeking to serve on a state court must apply and be interviewed by a seven-member nominating commission, a process known as "merit selection."

That panel then recommends three finalists to the governor who appoints one to the bench. After serving for two years, the justice or judge must stand for retention and let voters decide if he or she has earned a 10-year term.

Lake and St. Joseph counties use a similar merit selection process to pick their judges, who must run for retention every six years. The judges in Indiana's 90 other counties and in Illinois are elected.

The idea, according to supporters of merit selection, is to appoint the best judge possible and give him or her a chance to establish a record in office before standing for retention, instead of having voters pick potentially unqualified judges based solely on partisanship.

Critics of merit selection believe judges should represent the people they serve and say elections are the only way to ensure that happens.

The two Indiana Supreme Court justices seeking retention this year are Justice Robert Rucker and Justice Steven David. They are on the ballot statewide.

Rucker, 65, is a Gary native who has served on the state's high court since 1999 after prevailing in a 2002 retention election. A victory this year would keep Rucker, a former Court of Appeals judge, on the bench until he hits the mandatory retirement age of 75.

David, 55, is running in his first retention election following his 2010 appointment by Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels. He is best known for writing the controversial Barnes v. State ruling that said Hoosiers never have a right to resist police, even if an officer is acting unlawfully.

That 2011 decision prompted Statehouse protests with many in attendance demanding Hoosiers vote against retaining David. However, aside from a few roadside signs and an online rant by the Indianapolis Tea Party, there appears to be no organized opposition to David's retention.

Justices and judges are only allowed to campaign for retention if there is organized opposition. David has so far remained silent on his retention bid, perhaps confident knowing no state court judge has ever lost a retention election.

Four Court of Appeals judges are up for retention this year but only three come from appeals court districts that cover Northwest Indiana. All three were appointed to the appellate court in 2000 by Democratic Gov. Frank O'Bannon and each won retention in 2002.

They are Judge Nancy Vaidik, a Portage native, Valparaiso University graduate and a former deputy prosecutor and judge in Porter County; Judge Michael Barnes, of South Bend, who served as St. Joseph County prosecutor for two decades; and Judge Paul Mathias who previously served 11 years as an Allen County judge in Fort Wayne.

In Lake County, Judge Jesse Villalpando and Judge Salvador Vasquez are running for retention.

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Lake County Board of Elections and Registration
2293 N. Main Street
Crown Point, IN 46302
(219) 755-3795

Porter County Voters Registration
155 Indiana Avenue
Valparaiso, IN 46383
(219) 465-3484

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Primary Election: May 6, 2014
Election: Nov. 4, 2014
Poll hours: 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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