‘Disenchanted ... not disenfranchised:’ Suit to stop partisan judicial elections rejected
Lafayette lawyer sued, calling situation a threat to independent courts in 'toxic' times. Plus, IU Arnett retrofits ambulance bay to handle ‘new normal’ patient volume. And about that boom you heard
Thanks to RailSplitters Authentics for sponsoring today’s edition. RailSplitters Authentics will be hosting the inaugural Tippecanoe Sports Collectibles Show on Saturday, Jan. 21, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Tippecanoe County Fairgrounds – featuring Purdue and all sports memorabilia and cards for sale, autograph guests and appraisals. Admission is $5 (12 and under free).
JUDGE DENIES LAWSUIT ASKING FOR NONPARTISAN JUDICIAL ELECTIONS IN ‘TOXIC’ TIMES
A Lafayette lawyer challenging the way judges are elected in partisan elections in Tippecanoe County and elsewhere in the state might not like the way the system works, but that doesn’t make the election laws unconstitutional, a judge ruled last week.
Tippecanoe Superior Judge Randy Williams said attorney Tom Herr’s lawsuit, first filed in July and argued during an hourlong hearing in December, was without merit and amounted to a soapbox about potentially toxic partisan times. Williams wrote in an eight-page ruling that how judges are elected in all but a handful of Indiana counties was “reasonable, non-discriminatory and do not severely burden … (his) right to vote.”
“Though (Herr) may be disenchanted, he is not disenfranchised,” Williams wrote.
Herr said late last week that he wasn’t sure whether he’d take the question to the Indiana Court of Appeals.
Herr’s lawsuit challenged why Tippecanoe County judges ran with party labels in county primaries but judicial candidates in Allen County and Vanderburgh County – home to Fort Wayne and Evansville, respectively – ran nonpartisan campaigns.
Allen and Vanderburgh counties were alone in the regard among the 89 Indiana counties that hold judicial elections. (The other three, Lake, Marion and St. Joseph counties, don’t have judicial elections. Judicial nominating commissions take nominations from local attorneys seeking to become judges, select finalists and pass those on to the governor, who makes the final selection.) In Tippecanoe County, all but one locally elected judge is a Republican.
In his filing, Herr said he had no plan to vote in a Republican or Democratic primary because he didn’t intend to vote for a majority of the nominees from either party in the general election – among the criteria for pulling a primary ballot in Indiana. Herr’s filing said he believed “that both of these parties are harmful to the well-being of the people and the government of the United States of America and of the state of Indiana.”
During the December hearing, Herr argued that Indiana’s judicial election system, having the vast majority of counties select judges who carried party labels, had “bad optics, at least” by labeling judges as Republicans or Democrats.
In his lawsuit, Herr wrote: “(Courts) should do everything in their power to maximize public confidence in their ability to issue unbiased and impartial decisions … By giving preference to the partisan election of judges in most Indiana counties, the Indiana statutes at issue in this case have the potential in this era of toxic partisanship to undermine public confidence and faith in our courts.”
Chris Anderson, arguing the state’s response for the attorney general’s office, said that the law was reasonable as it was and that Herr’s argument about potential changes in Tippecanoe County were best suited for the General Assembly, not the courts.
In his ruling, Williams, a Republican, noted that in his first campaign, in 2008, voters had the choice between a Republican, a Democrat and an independent.
Williams wrote that Indiana’s judicial election laws, set by the legislature, were reasonable. He wrote that Herr’s suit looked to have the court deal with laws overseeing judicial elections “by piecemeal,” by declaring the laws unconstitutional “at least in Tippecanoe County.”
“Unfortunately, the court believes plaintiff’s cogent discussion of his view of the law ultimately deteriorates to a soap box upon which he can stand speaking to the ‘toxic partisanship’ he references on more than one occasion. The court disagrees with plaintiff’s rendition of (Indiana codes) to require judicial candidates to affirm under oath their ‘loyalty’ to either the Republican or Democratic party. To run is not an act of fealty to a particular party. As plaintiff himself argues, the Code of Judicial Conduct requires that ‘a judge shall uphold and promote the independence, integrity and impartiality of the judiciary and shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.’”
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IU ARNETT CONVERTS AMBULANCE BAY TO HANDLE ‘OUR NEW NORMAL’
Calling a recent surge in emergency room patients a potential “new normal,” IU Health Arnett Hospital this week returned to a measure rolled out during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, equipping its ambulance bay into an extension of its traditional care space.
Dr. Chris Mansfield, IU Health Arnett’s chief medical officer, said Tuesday that the hospital on Lafayette’s east side was fitting a number of spaces beside the ambulance bay to deal with recent patient demands.
The ambulance bay was expected to be ready to go Tuesday night, Rhonda Jones, an IU Health Arnett spokeswoman.
Mansfield said there’s been no single cause for the surge, whether COVID, the flu or respiratory diseases such as RSV.
“We are seeing consistent, extremely high patient volumes in our emergency department, as well as our urgent cares,” Mansfield said in a release issued Tuesday. “In many way, this increased patient volume is, or may become, our new normal, and so we are taking the steps needed to provide excellent care for our patients now and to adapt for the long term.”
At Franciscan Health Lafayette East, a little over two miles away, Terry Wilson, Franciscan Health Western Indiana president and CEO, said the hospital had seen surges in patients, too.
Wilson said Franciscan hasn’t had to convert space, as IU Health Arnett announced it was doing.
“But we’re both getting hammered by volume,” Wilson said.
“I’ll tell you this, the issue right now isn’t COVID. The issue right now, quite honestly, isn't the flu. And the issue right now isn't RSV,” Wilson said. “We have COVID cases. We have flu. We have RSV. But not an overwhelming amount, by any stretch – not even close to where we were a year ago. And yet we're having these surges of activity. And I can't tell you why necessarily. So, yes, we're a little puzzled at times why we're as busy as we are. We manage it day to day.”
Wilson said the two competing hospitals continue to communicate daily, as they started doing during the pandemic, particularly when it comes to managing ambulance runs when one emergency department becomes overloaded.
“We manage it day to day,” Wilson said.
BOOM HEARD MONDAY TIED TO FATAL HOUSE EXPLOSION FRIDAY
A boom heard across Greater Lafayette late Monday morning came when Tippecanoe County’s bomb squad destroyed material left from a fatal explosion Friday in Lafayette.
Jason Huber, bomb squad commander, said Tuesday that the team conducted disposal operations for hazardous materials collected during Friday’s investigation into an explosion at a house in the 100 block of South 28th Street that killed Michael Bannon, 51, of Lafayette.
Huber said the bomb squad did its work on county-owned land along South River Road, near West Lafayette.
Lafayette police reported that Bannon died at an Indianapolis hospital after the home explosion Friday afternoon. Police said he’d been making homemade fireworks at the time. Police reported they also found materials in a residence on Crestview Court in Lafayette.
On Tuesday, the Marion County coroner confirmed his name, saying that the investigation remained open.
An obituary published Monday in the J&C indicated that Bannon was working on one of his rental properties and preparing fireworks – “two things that he loved to do.” According to his obituary, Bannon “was legendary for his annual fireworks display on the 4th of July, with each year his entire neighborhood would eagerly look forward to the event. Mike would start preparing July 5th each year, spending countless time and money preparing for each year to be a better show for his friends, family and neighborhood.”
LAFAYETTE’S GOOGLE SEARCH: CLIMATE CHANGE
Fun fact you might have seen pop up in recent weeks: Google reported that Greater Lafayette searched for the phrase ‘climate change’ more than any other community in the country in 2022. As Lafayette, West Lafayette and Tippecanoe County put the final touches on a Climate Action Plan – a 200-plus page document of data and recommendations – WBAA reporter Ben Thorp dissected that claim about the Googling tendencies of Greater Lafayette and what it might have meant last years. Here’s a way into his story: “Greater Lafayette residents searched for ‘climate change’ in 2022 more than anywhere in the country.”
Meanwhile, here’s a way into the Greater Lafayette Climate Action Plan, approved in the past week by Lafayette and West Lafayette city councils. Tippecanoe County commissioners are expected to consider adoption soon, too. To read the plan, here’s a link or click on the cover photo below.
A FEW READS AFTER GOV. HOLCOMB’S STATE OF THE STATE TUESDAY NIGHT
From AP’s Tom Davies: “Indiana governor pushes big spending plan in annual address”
From IndyStar’s Arika Herron and Clare Rafford: “Gov. Eric Holcomb pitches education, public health goals in State of the State”
From Indiana Capital Chronicle’s Leslie Bonilla Muñiz: “Holcomb touts state’s ‘position of strength,’ $30 million trail deal”
Thanks, again, to RailSplitters Authentics for sponsoring today’s edition. For more about the inaugural Tippecanoe Sports Collectibles Show on Saturday, Jan. 21, at the Tippecanoe County Fairgrounds, here’s your link.
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