EDITORIAL: Expand merit selection for judges

2013-05-12T00:00:00Z EDITORIAL: Expand merit selection for judges nwitimes.com
May 12, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Mediation failed to resolve the feud over filling the Lake Juvenile Court vacancy. So now it's up to the Indiana Supreme Court to order that state law be obeyed.

This bizarre case has an "only in Lake County" flavor to it, but it's worthy of statewide attention.

When Mary Beth Bonaventura resigned from the Lake Juvenile Court bench to become head of the Indiana Department of Child Services, Lake Superior Court Judge Nicholas Schiralli decided he wanted to replace her. Nothing wrong with that desire.

But these are not interchangeable cogs. Schiralli was not put on the bench by the merit selection process, and state law requires that the merit selection process be followed to fill that vacancy.

The issue before the Supreme Court seems clear cut: Does the merit selection requirement trump the transfer rule? We say yes and expect the high court to say that, too, in its ruling.

Schiralli was elected, back when the law specified judges for that branch of the court to be elected rather than go through the merit selection process.

If he wants that job, apply for it. Let his experience and other qualifications speak for themselves. That's how the merit selection process works.

This is similar to the process used to select judges for the Indiana Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals.

Lake and St. Joseph counties follow the same process. Indiana lawmakers should embrace it for other judgeships across the state.

Under merit selection, interested people are invited to submit detailed applications showing their qualifications for the position. It's essentially like providing a resume and portfolio. Then applicants are interviewed, culled, in some cases interviewed again, and then three finalists' names are sent to the governor for consideration.

It's a process that works to dilute, if not remove, political considerations. Candidates are judged by their qualifications, not their popularity or their ability to attract campaign funds.

We'll leave it to the Indiana Supreme Court to issue its prompt ruling that the merit selection law must be followed in the Lake Juvenile Court case.

But we urge the General Assembly, once again, to spread use of that process to all judges across the state. Put the most qualified people on the bench, not just the most popular or well-funded.

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