Bil Browning

Non-partisan judge?

Filed By Bil Browning | November 03, 2006 3:33 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: Election 2006, Katherine Densborne, local politics, Republicans

You might be wondering why I have a picture of a house advertising Cruella Deville, er, I mean, Katherine Densborne... Because of who lives in the house - S.K. Reid. That would be Marion County Superior Court Judge S.K. Reid. And judges aren't ethically supposed to engage in any partisan politics.

You don't know the good judge? Let me refresh your memory...

On Wednesday, Indiana Judge S.K. Reid upheld the Indiana marriage law in a strongly worded opinion acknowledging marriage and the traditional family as "the basic living unit of our free society." In addition, Judge Reid held that traditional marriage laws are closely tied to "the state's interest in encouraging procreation to occur in a context where both biological parents are present to raise the child."

...Judge Reid concluded that the plaintiffs had failed to present any "principled theory" why marriage, if understood simply as a long-term, stable relationship, would not apply equally to groups of three or more.


Now, I'm no lawyer, but I did a quick peek around on the internet - specifically, the American Bar Association's site - and I'd like to know if this is ethical by judicial standards. Isn't there a few things that are automatic "no-nos?" Like endorsing any candidate? A few of our contributors here are attorneys, so I'm sure we'll get a legal opinion on this quickly.

Here's what I found though... According to the Judicial Ethics Canon 5 section Rule 5.01 section (c) -

"...a judge or a candidate for judicial office shall not directly or indirectly (c) publicly endorse or oppose a candidate for any public office."

Anyone out there care to discuss the legalities of the situation?


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Wilson46201 | November 3, 2006 4:27 PM

One could ask Darla Y. Williamns who is running for Small Claims Court Judge - she runs Indiana Minority Report which endorses E.D. and slanders Julia Carson as badly as AdvanceIndiana. Judge candidate Williams repeatedly wears campaign caps and jackets for Julia Carsons opponent and has openly held a fundraiser for him on Sept. 7th at state GOP headquarters.

She should know the laws prohibiting such political activity by Judges or Judicial Candidates ...

Sorry Wilson, but this isn't about Julia Carson. Let it go. It's about S.K. Reid. Let's stay on topic.

Wilson46201 | November 3, 2006 5:47 PM

Judges may not endorse or donate to other political candidates - they may run on a slate and attend political dinners and events. I'm sure Chief Justice Randy Sheppard would frown mightily at a political yardsign in a judge's yard. Indpls Judge Sallee got into hot water a few years ago when he delivered a donation to OBannon he said was from his wife - while winking. As I recall, he was officially reprimanded but he kept his judgeship.

Marla R. Stevens | November 3, 2006 5:56 PM

Both appear to be violations and I appreciate that both were brought to light. The next step is to file a complaint:

http://www.in.gov/judiciary/jud-qual/filing.html

Interestingly, in a list of complaints adjudicated to a finding against the judge, complaints of a political nature approached fifty percent of the total cases.

In other words, file. You'll have plenty of company.

Are you sure you want to paint with such a broad brush? Judge Lopossa has been a respectcable small claims court judge here in Center Township, and she's contributed to other candidates.

LOPOSSA, PAULA
INDIANAPOLIS, IN 46202
CENTER TOWNSHIP OF MARION COUNTY

DNC SERVICES CORPORATION/DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE
09/23/2004 1000.00 24991273884

LOPOSSA, PAULA
INDIANAPOLIS, IN 46202
CITY OF INDIANAPOLIS/JUDGE

MARION COUNTY (IN) DEMOCRATIC PARTY FEDERAL ACCOUNT
08/07/2006 200.00 26950473824

LOPOSSA, PAULA E
INDIANAPOLIS, IN 46202
CENTER TOWNSHIP

CARSON, JULIA
VIA JULIA CARSON FOR CONGRESS COMMITTEE
10/09/1998 250.00 98033860186

LOPOSSA, PAULA E.
INDIANAPOLIS, IN 46202
CENTER TOWNSHIP/JUDGE

CARSON, JULIA
VIA JULIA CARSON FOR CONGRESS COMMITTEE
08/12/2002 500.00 22992090505

LOPOSSA, PAULA E.
INDIANAPOLIS, IN 46202
CENTER TOWNSHIP/JUDGE/JUDGE

CARSON, JULIA
VIA JULIA CARSON FOR CONGRESS COMMITTEE
10/07/2002 500.00 22992481244

Total Contributions: 2450.00

Wilson46201 | November 3, 2006 8:03 PM

Yup - Judge Paula Lopossa (who is retiring this year) probably should not have made such donations. I checked those same listings myself a few minutes ago before you posted Gary but you have brought it up already on your all-things-anti-Julia-blog.

Your point? You attempting to silence folk from reporting Wannabe-Judge Judge Darla Williams for her egregious politicking for Eric Dickerson?

You know though, Wilson, when I was looking through the Indiana ethics rules for judges, I did see a loophole that allowed someone who is running for judge in the current election to participate in fundraising and partisan activities. Perhaps this is what Ms. Williams is doing - I don't know. I'm not a lawyer...

Gary, it looks to me like this would be a violation as well. Like I said, I'm not an attorney - but you are. Why don't you tell us if either case is a violation?

Personally, I don't care one way or another - Democrat or Republican. If they're not supposed to be doing it - they ought not. Period.

Karen Celestino-Horseman | November 4, 2006 9:26 AM

Although I do not deal regularly with the Code of Judicial Conduct (hey, I am a lawyer so I have to include a disclaimer), it appears that neither Judge Reid nor Darla Williams is in violation of the code which can be found at http://www.in.gov/judiciary/rules/jud_conduct/jud_conduct.pdf

Canon 5(C)(of the Code of Judicial Conduct provides in part:

(1) A judge or a candidate * subject to public election, except as prohibited by law *, may at any time:
(a) attend a gathering of a political organization * and purchase a ticket for the gathering for the judge and the judge's guest;
(b) identify himself or herself as a member of a political party;
(c) voluntarily contribute to a political organization *;
(d) speak to gatherings on his or her own behalf;
(e) appear in newspaper, television and other media advertisements supporting his or her candidacy;
(f) distribute pamphlets and other promotional campaign literature supporting his or her candidacy; and
(g) publicly endorse and attend gatherings for other candidates in the same public election in which the judge or judicial candidate is running and may purchase tickets for the judge and the judge's guest for the purpose of attending the gathering.

Given that every judicial candidate on the ballot will "win" this election because there are 20 courts up for election and there are 20 candidates up for election, even if you disagree with a particular judge, there is nothing you can do about it.

But don't let that stop you from voting. There are plenty of other races where your vote is needed!

The Indiana Rules of Judicial Conduct provide a fair amount of latitude to a judge who is standing for election during an election year in terms of his/her interaction with the political process and other candidates. The applicable rule reads as follows:

A judge or a candidate * subject to public election, except as prohibited by law *, may at any time:

(a) attend a gathering of a political organization * and purchase a ticket for the gathering for the judge and the judge's guest;

(b) identify himself or herself as a member of a political party;

(c) voluntarily contribute to a political organization *;

(d) speak to gatherings on his or her own behalf;

(e) appear in newspaper, television and other media advertisements supporting his or her candidacy;

(f) distribute pamphlets and other promotional campaign literature supporting his or her candidacy; and

(g) publicly endorse and attend gatherings for other candidates in the same public election in which the judge or judicial candidate is running and may purchase tickets for the judge and the judge's guest for the purpose of attending the gathering.

Gary and Karen, As I've said, I'm no attorney and both of you are. But I have a question. When I looked at Canon 5 (see my link in the post from the ABA), it clearly says that judges cannot engage in those activities. Is this one of those cases where Indiana law trumps ABA ethics rules? Or am I just confusing the two?

Karen Celestino-Horseman | November 4, 2006 11:04 AM

The Indiana Judicial Code is applicable. The ABA Judicial Code is more like a model code, the provisions of which a State can pick and choose to adopt.

Karen may be right. No judge will be defeated this fall, technically...and the reason for that little arrangement is nothing short of outrageous.

And we have both county party chairs to thank for this exercise in democratic jurisprudence. And, to top it off, two new courts were added, and guess who got to appoint those judges? The two county party chairs.

The last people I want determining who judges will be, are a hack Repulbican chairman and a Dem chairman whose wife is already on the bench. They made this unholy alliance in the last session of the legislature as a "deal" to avoid ballot fights, and as part of the restructuring of the whole Marion County judiciary.

And, as for judges engaging in partisan efforts, it doesn't get any more aggregious than Judge Bradford ruling in favor of the council district lawsuit, when his brother was on the ballot. Which, thankfully, the Appeals Court promptly booted back to him with stern comments.

Okay, next question... The way I read the Indiana code of ethics, it seems to say that it's okay for judges to "publicly endorse and attend gatherings for other candidates in the same public election in which the judge or judicial candidate is running." S.K. Reid isn't running for office this year, is she? If not, does that make a difference? Isn't she supposed to remain non-partisan unless she's up for election?

Reid is on the ballot, although she actually has no real opposition since each party nominated just enough judicial candidates to fill the 20 open slots--and that was provided by law. The center township small claims court judge race is obviously contested.

Don Sherfick | November 4, 2006 5:38 PM

Wow, this particular attorney is impressed by the fact that this initial picture and posting garnered 14 comments, albiet not from as many individuals. Would that other postings do as well. (Browning gives out candy kisses proportional to comments received....whether or not rewarding himself may itself be an ethical question worthy of a new thread unto itself) Thanks for the judicial ethics review, guys and gals. Now if only I could get half a CLE credit for reading them!

Wilson46201 | November 5, 2006 7:45 AM

Yesterday I spoke to an long-time incumbent judge about this Reid sign. He said it was definitely frowned on and should not have been done.