The Indiana Supreme Court ruled Friday, as it should have, that state law trumps the Lake County judges' transfer rule.
Indiana law requires the merit selection process be followed to fill a seat on the Lake Juvenile Court bench, which is why Lake Superior Court Judge Nicholas Schiralli couldn't transfer to that position. He hasn't gone through the merit selection process yet. Schiralli was elected, following the law in place at that time, rather than going through the merit selection process.
Schiralli wanted to follow a rule established by Lake County judges that would let him transfer automatically, but magistrates handling Juvenile Court cases filed suit to stop that move.
Now that the Supreme Court has weighed in, the merit selection process should begin. The merit commission should invite applicants to apply for the job, then go through a screening process similar to the one used to fill vacancies on the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals.
The aim of the merit selection process is to make sure the person named to the court is chosen because of his or her qualifications, not because of popularity or political connections. It also deflects allegations that judges are influenced by campaign donations.
Indiana law should make clear that the merit selection process is to be followed whenever there is a vacancy, rather than letting any sitting judge transfer. That should be true regardless of whether the judge has already gone through the merit selection process for a different court.
The selection process picks the right person for the job, not just for any job.
Currently, the merit selection process is limited to Lake and St. Joseph counties, as well as state courts. It should be followed in all 92 Indiana counties. State law should be changed to make that happen, too.
This reform is long overdue.