In response to Judge McDermott’s column in The Times (Feb. 14), I would like to offer a different perspective and lay out a little history as to why Lake County went from elected Small Claims courts to selected Superior Court judges and why, in my humble opinion, it was/is a good idea.
The Small Claims Court system was established in Lake County when the justice of the peace had outlived its usefulness in the late 1970s.
I have taken directly from a Times article the following paragraph that describes the situation at the time much better than I can.
“…… these new judges, unlike their Superior Court counterparts, were elected through Lake's powerful Democratic party with all the partisan influences and obligations that come with having to marshal campaign funds and voter support.”
The worst of the problem came when more serious offenses, beyond simple traffic infractions, were requested to be "taken care of." In this case, drunk driving arrests.
The process went something like this:
The accused would hire a lawyer, usually one known to have connections with the parties in the courthouse. The lawyer charged his client a fee. The lawyer would plead his client guilty, take his fee and turn the rest over to the judge’s campaign fund. Somewhere down the road, after the ticket was sent to the county clerk’s office for processing it would get filed — and the information did not get sent to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles.
Thus, the now guilty party could go about his business and not have to worry about his arrest for operating while intoxicated appearing on his driving record. I may be off a little with the exact order of the process, but you get the gist.
The U.S. attorney caught wind of what was going on launched an investigation called Operation Bar Tab. The feds, through their investigation, were able to get two judges to resign from the bench, one of whom was also convicted of perjury. The county clerk resigned, one attorney lost his license to practice law and several other people were indicted for taking part somewhere along the line in the scheme. The whole thing reads like a movie script.
Following that, an effort was started to take the judges out of the political arena. The effort was led by Lake County Superior Court Judge Morton B. Kanz, who, along with other judges and attorneys, was successful in getting the current (method) put into law.
I don’t disagree with Judge McDermott on anything except that I believe that merit selection is the best process to select judges. While it’s true that the judges only have to face a retention vote to stay on the bench, I believe that the judges can be challenged at the time of the retention vote by any Lake County attorney for the position, which would bring about an election contest.
I also agree with Judge McDermott that the supermajority of Republicans in the General Assembly are again bent on taking control away from local authority. We already lost, to the governor, the right to pick our own state superintendent of instruction. And now, while it is only a retention vote, they want to take that authority from the voters as well. Currently they’re taken on the largest businesses and industries in Indiana. They claim to know how best to run the city of Indianapolis more than its elected leaders. It seems they think they know how to do what is best for all municipalities in the state.
Thomas Hoffman, Dyer