ANDERSON — Should a judge be required to have a law degree in order to serve on city and town courts? This is the question posed by Indiana Senate Bill 128, which seeks to ban nonlawyers from serving as judges.

While the bill probably won’t be presented to the Senate until next year, if passed, it would affect judges in Madison County. One of those judges is Alexandria City Court Judge Brandy Goodman, who said she believes the bill would eliminate city courts.

At the heart of the bill is a concern that city and town courts eat too much revenue that would otherwise go to the state. Goodman said she believes that simply isn’t true.

“Sixty percent of our revenue goes back to the state and county,” said Goodman, who has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Indiana University-Kokomo and worked in the field for 10 years before serving as judge.

Goodman believes the bill overlooks many of the assets city and county courts offer. For instance, keeping police and defendants nearby makes no-shows in the courtroom less likely, and attorney-judges are banned from hearing cases in cities and towns in which they practice.

“I understand the concern, but we go through the same training as anyone else on city courts,” Goodman said.

Goodman mentioned that other nonlawyers, such as Elwood City Court Judge Kyle Noone and Pendleton Town Court Judge George Gasparovic, have strong backgrounds in criminal justice.

Another concern: If the state increases its requirements for judges, will there be enough applicants? Goodman, who makes slightly more than $10,000 a year as a judge, said there are few lawyers willing to serve for such low pay.

Noone ran unopposed in his last primary. He said attorney-judges often earn 50 percent more in pay than other judges, which would only drive up the price to maintain city and town courts.

Noone, who holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Anderson University, is an outspoken critic of the bill and has been working with the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns to see that it does not get passed. He takes offense with any preconception that holds that nonattorney judges are less competent.

“As lay judges, we run professional courts. We take pride in maintaining the virtues of justice,” Noone said.

Noone argues that since city and town courts often deal with issues that are not “complex criminal matters,” there is no need to restrict judgeships to attorneys only.

Democratic state Reps. Terri Austin, Jack Lutz and Scott Reske have all stated they would not support the bill.

Sen. Luke Kenley (R-Noblesville) said that ever since he was first elected to the Indiana Senate in 1992, he’s seen similar bills presented.

“There seems to be a constant effort to revive it,” Kenley said.
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