Six decades of judicial experience and institutional courtroom knowledge will leave the Zietlow Justice Center at the end of the year as three veteran judges retire and three new ones don long black robes to replace them.
All three Monroe Circuit Court judicial seats up for election in November have contested races in the May 8 primary. No Republicans have publicly announced judicial candidacies for the fall general election.
Caseloads and the focus of each of the county’s nine circuit court judges may shift when the new judges come on board in January. A judicial code of ethics limits what candidates for local judgeships can say, which limits the content of debates during political campaigns.
Monroe Circuit Court 2
Monroe County Prosecutor Chris Gaal and former Monroe County judge Christine Talley Haseman are seeking the seat being vacated by Judge Marc Kellams, a Republican retiring after 39 years on the bench.
Haseman served as a civil court judge in Monroe County in 2007 and 2008, appointed by former Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels to lead a newly created court. She lost to Democrat Elizabeth Cure in the 2008 election, and has since switched political affiliations.
Gaal, completing his third term as Monroe County prosecutor, anticipates a seamless shift, if he is elected, from charging people with crimes to holding them accountable as he determines their fate.
During a March 19 candidate forum, he emphasized his experience — nine years in private practice representing defendants and almost 12 years as prosecutor — and his understanding of Bloomington’s “progressive culture” as his strengths. “My balance and broad diversity of experience,” he said, are essential traits for a judge.
Gaal vowed to practice equality. “I will treat people with respect, and make sure people are treated fairly and justly,” Gaal said. “I will listen to the unique facts of each case and apply the rules of law fairly.”
Haseman has been an attorney 22 years, starting out as a public defender and then focusing on cases involving children and custody issues. She’s a hearing officer for the Indiana Supreme Court, deciding lawyer disciplinary cases. She also works as an advocate for children in the court system.
Haseman said she has learned the importance of judges listening and trying to understand the circumstances of the people who come before them. “Let each person have his or her say and explain their situation,” she said. “A judge needs to let people be heard, to learn about their lives.”
Monroe Circuit Court 6
Veteran Monroe County deputy prosecutor Jeff Kehr and family law attorney Catherine Stafford are seeking the Democratic nomination to replace Judge Francie Hill, a former juvenile court judge who in recent years has overseen civil cases.
Kehr has spent an entire legal career in public service, including two decades as a deputy prosecutor. He said he knows the criminal justice system from the inside out, and has been lead prosecutor in more than 50 criminal trials, including cases of murder, rape and felony battery.
“I have extensive knowledge of the rules of evidence and how they play out during a trial,” Kehr said in a recent candidate forum. As the first deputy prosecutor, he reviews police investigation reports and determines what charges should be filed.
Kehr also is on call 24 hours a day to answer questions from law enforcement officers who sometimes seek legal advice. He said the natural path of his career leads to the judiciary, where he can put to use his experience to administer fair and equal justice to the accused.
Stafford said that if elected, she intends to work more toward preventing the issues that land people in court. “If we reduce the use of court, we spend less money,” she said, “since 82 percent of our court costs are in personnel.”
She has spent her legal career focused on civil and family law and as a mediator in domestic relations cases. She has served as a replacement judge in Monroe Circuit Court for a decade, and thinks establishing a night court is an idea to consider.
Stafford cites her legal experience, compassion, fairness and organizational skills as qualifications for being a judge.
Monroe Circuit Court 9
The Democratic primary race to replace retiring Judge Teresa Harper involves two candidates who have run for judge before and a deputy prosecutor seeking public office for the first time.
Geoffrey Bradley, a Monroe County deputy prosecutor since 2005, is new to politics. He has focused on felony crimes for more than a decade, and said he decided to run for judge when he realized he could fill a gap left with the departure of three experienced judges.
He said it’s important that the public have confidence in judges and know that justice is being meted out fairly. “The public needs confidence that the person on the bench is keeping their circumstances in mind when making decisions,” Bradley said at a recent candidate forum.
He touts what he calls his fair and even-handed approach, integrity and impartiality as traits in becoming a judge. He also is a criminal law instructor at the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy.
Darcie Fawcett has spent more than a dozen years dealing with criminal cases on a daily basis, and said that experience has given her insights into the nuances of how the criminal justice system ought to work.
“It’s important to remember this is a person, not just a case file on my desk,” she said during a candidate forum. She said the most important judicial attributes are the ability “to listen and to hear,” and to use empathy in applying the law.
“I am committed to a fair and just system, and I understand that the decisions judges render reach far into the world and people’s lives,” she said, citing her years as a public school teacher as relevant experience as well. “You have to meet people where they are.”
Alphonso Manns, a former U.S. Army platoon leader and officer, says he has the skills and ambitions to be a good judge. He has practiced law in Bloomington since 1980, representing clients in criminal, civil and family cases.
His experience ranges from misdemeanor crimes to a death penalty case. He said judges must be honorable, a trait he seeks to embody. Manns ran unsuccessfully for judge against Hill in 2012 and Judge Kenneth Todd in 2014. He has said that being a judge is his destiny, something he was meant to do after a lifetime of lawyering.
There has been no direct mention in this election cycle about Manns’ involvement in a gold selling scam 25 years ago that resulted in a $400 million jury verdict against him, though the story has crept into past election campaigns.
He summed up the state of the courts in a recent candidate forum. “We don’t have a fair justice system,” he said. “But we try.”