In his initial press release, and on subsequent occasions, Chad Miner has claimed he is qualified for the judgeship of Kosciusko Superior Court 3 due to serving as a judge pro tem in that court on numerous occasions. As the general population of Kosciusko may not know what a judge pro tem is and does, as a local attorney I wanted to try and clarify. In full disclosure, I have not appeared in front of Miner when he was sitting as a pro tem and I have not served as a pro tem myself.
The requirements for a judge pro tem are found in Indiana Code and are that the individual:
1) live in the judicial district; and 2) be a competent practicing attorney.
In this respect, all of the other candidates and nearly any attorney in town is just as qualified. You are likely wondering what a judge pro tem actually does to make such experience a noteworthy qualifier.
You may think a pro tem is like a real judge — it is not.
Predominantly, a judge pro tem acts as a sort of substitute teacher for the court. The actual judge often clears most items from his calendar before leaving the judge pro tem in charge. Attorneys who know ahead of time, often request moving their cases. Of the cases that are left, a judge pro tem often continues those hearings to dates when the actual judge is present when the party appears in court. When a judge pro tem does act, they almost always do so using the actual judge’s preferences and notes, rather than relying upon their own judgment. Additionally, serving as judge pro tem for small claims cases, grants less experience as the Rules of Evidence are not used and one of the primary roles of an actual judge is making quick, reliable evidentiary rulings. This is especially important with felony jury trials which take place in Court 3.
Experience does matter—the right kind of experience. Court 3 handles small claims cases, evictions, protective orders and felony criminal cases. With the felony cases being the exception, most people who go to this court do not have attorneys helping them. You want someone who can apply the law in a way that dispenses justice in a system where it often doesn’t make sense for people to spend lots of money for an attorney—instead of having to go without an attorney, potentially against a corporate attorney for a debt collection or an eviction.
Sitting in the judge’s chair, acting upon notes, in no way gives any pro tem the desired experience. Be sure to look past any pro tem service for experience that matters. The most important experience for any judge is jury trial experience. All of the other three candidates have more of the same.
Travis J. McConnell