CROWN POINT | Lake County judges are declaring their independence from the state's new nepotism law.
Lake Chief Superior Court Judge John Pera said Friday he informed county officials this week that the 16 judges in his court system aren't obligated to certify they follow the new code, which forbids elected county, city, town and township officials from hiring family members anymore.
Lake Circuit Court Judge George Paras, whose court is separate from the local superior court system, said Friday he and Pera are both following policy outlined by the Indiana Division of State Court Administration.
That policy notes judges have their own ethical safeguards in place and the new law impinges on judicial independence guaranteed under the Indiana Constitution.
Pera and Paras said they don't have relatives on their personal staffs. Pera said he doesn't know of any Superior Court judge who has family among more than 330 bailiffs, probation officers and other support staff. The circuit court employs 15.
The prohibition, which became law July 1, applies to local government employees supervising spouses, parents, children, siblings, nieces or nephews, aunts or uncles, and half- or step-siblings or in-laws.
Relatives who already were on officials' payrolls before July 1 are exempt unless they quit and attempt to be rehired at a future date.
Pera said the rest of local government is trying to catch up to the ethical safeguards long in place for judges under the Indiana Code of Judicial Conduct. He said judges not only must avoid hiring their own relatives, they also are prohibited from hiring relatives of existing employees.
Pera said judges may voluntarily comply with the law if they choose, but he will stand on principle and not fill out any forms certifying he is obligated under the law.
"Matters of judicial independence are always thorny. Everyone agrees with them in the abstract, but when it comes to applying them in the real world, it can sometimes ruffle feathers," Pera said.
"I don't want people to think judges are arrogant or feel they they are better than anyone else. It's a matter of judges and their staffs being held to different standards than the rest of government," Pera said.
Lake County Prosecutor Bernard Carter said Friday he is voluntarily complying with the new law even though the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council recently declared that prosecutors are not obligated to do so since they, like judges, are state employees.
Carter, whose office employs 174 people, said he has a nephew on his payroll who processes legal paperwork for deputy prosecutors.