WILLIAM NANGLE: Make judges follow merit selection law

2013-04-07T00:00:00Z WILLIAM NANGLE: Make judges follow merit selection lawBy William Nangle nwitimes.com
April 07, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Justice appears to be running amuck in Indiana.

First, Gov. Mike Pence picks Lake Juvenile Court Judge Mary Beth Bonaventura to lead the Department of Child Services. A good thing.

Lake County judges agree Lake Superior Court Judge Nicholas Schiralli should fill the open judgeship.

Bonaventura writes the state judicial commission, insisting Schiralli not be seated as Juvenile Court judge. She cites Indiana law that states a judge must be selected based on a merit commission’s recommendations to the governor, who then appoints the judge.

Schiralli was elected prior to current law, never facing a merit selection process. That means he is not qualified to fill the Juvenile Court job unless chosen through the merit process.

Well, the Lake judges in their infinite wisdom, minus Bonaventura, agree to ignore the law, allowing Schiralli to move from his Superior Court job to the Juvenile Court. A step that would appear to be illegal. A bad move.

Chief Lake Superior Court Judge John Pera on behalf of his robed brethren responded claiming the law was “a legislative overreach” and ”unconstitutional.”

The state’s highest court was at first silent. Then three individuals who served as magistrate under Bonaventura filed suit. They wanted a chance to apply for the open seat on the Juvenile Court. An understandable move.

But rather than deal directly with the issue, the Indiana Supreme Court took an unusual and lateral move. They appointed Frank Sullivan Jr., a former member of the Supreme Court, to mediate the matter. It looks like they want to avoid ruling on an issue involving separation of powers.

But mediation raises red flags. How do you mediate something that is as clear as can be and that is law?

There should be no wiggle room on this decision. It is a matter of law, and I believe judges are to uphold the law. The right thing to do.

However, it appears the high court doesn’t want to offend its judicial brethren from Lake County by enforcing the law, so shuffle the sensitive issue off to mediation. Have a former judge, not someone from the unbiased national mediation association, oversee the mediation. A bad move.

That begs the question: Will the mediation sessions be open or carried on behind a closed door? What if the mediator rules it’s OK for the judges to break the law? Then what?

I am thinking the problem ultimately lies with the apparently conflicted high court. Perhaps the next salvo should be a move to impeach the Supremes for failing to fulfill their duty to uphold the law.

Or maybe a lawsuit in federal court against the Supremes will be necessary to get them to uphold the law.

One thing is clear, this issue is far from being resolved.

William Nangle is executive editor of The Times. He can be reached at The Times, 601 45th St., Munster, IN 46321 or at bill.nangle@nwi.com.

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