EDITORIAL: Merit selection works well, so expand it

2013-10-09T00:00:00Z EDITORIAL: Merit selection works well, so expand it nwitimes.com
October 09, 2013 12:00 am  • 

The selection of Sam Cappas as the new Lake County Criminal Court judge shows the merit selection process works well.

Gov. Mike Pence appointed Cappas on Thursday.

"Sam Cappas has the legal skills and background necessary to serve the people of Lake County well as Lake Superior Court judge," Pence said in last week's announcement. That's an understatement.

Cappas is not only a veterans criminal defense attorney in private practice, but he has also seen the system from different perspectives -- 20 years as a public defender, five years as a deputy prosecuting attorney and one year as a permanent judge pro tem.

Cappas was one of three finalists for the job chosen by the Judicial Nominating Commission.

"Any of the three candidates reported out by the Judicial Nominating Commission would have served the judiciary well," said Lake Juvenile Court Judge Tom Stefaniak. Cappas will take Stefaniak's old job when he has arranged to close his private practice.

Cappas' selection, along with the other two top finalists, shows how well the merit selection process works.

Applicants for the judicial post are thoroughly vetted by the independent nominating commission. They must provide their credentials and prove their ability to perform well in the position they're seeking.

This process is not unique to Lake County. Notably, the Indiana Supreme Court and Indiana Court of Appeals follow this process.

But for nearly all judgeships in Indiana, politics enters the process. That can lead to questions later about to which campaign donors or powerbrokers the judge might be beholden. Even if the judge is impartial -- and we'd like to believe that's almost always the case -- the need for campaign donations opens the door to speculation about political influence.

The merit selection process takes elections and campaign donations out of the equation, leaving one less opportunity for an ethical stain on a judge's reputation.

Merit selection should be extended to all of Indiana's superior court judgeships.

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