Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Warren Township Warring

Ricardo Rivera, the Democratic judge in Warren Township's Small Claims Court has met the enemy, and "they are us."

Indianapolis Democratic attorney, Todd Woodmansee, has already announced his campaign to unseat Rivera, and he's already held a fundraiser last Friday. Woodmansee's treasurer is Ryan Gardner, the President of the Marion County Bar Association.

Rivera has drawn the ire of Marion County Democratic Party Chair Ed Treacy by not paying his full slating fee from his last go-round and by not joining the Chairman's Club.

What does money have to do with being a good judge? Absolutely nothing. But these are the financial contributions smart judges make when they don't want their county chair implicitly endorsing other people's campaigns.

Woodmansee diplomatically and smartly talked to the chairman and every significant Warren Township official before making this jump. Understandably, nobody endorsed Woodmansee publicly. But word on the street is that nobody told him it was a bad idea either. That can't bode well for Rivera.

Lest people believe Rivera's opposition is driven by "all politics," allegedly, there are concerns that Warren Township lawsuit filings are down, and that Rivera is absent too much from the bench, as he hands off duties to lawyers who sit as pro tem judge for him.

On the issue of filings, all attorneys know that we small claims "forum shop," or file cases where we think we'll get most favor. (This is why small claims courts should come under the superior court system and have geographic boundaries tied to jurisdiction). If no lawsuits are filed in Warren Township, it loses money (as does its constable, which might explain some things). But nobody can dispute the last thing the Eastside needs is less revenue.

At the same time, you might also have banks or collections agencies upset they can't get foreclosures and garnishments as easily as they once did. In other words, until we know concretely why filings are down, we don't know whether this hurts or helps Rivera's Democratic bona fides. He might be making the right rulings for the little guy, and the law firms representing the Goliaths that generate the lion's share of small claims business just might not like it.

On the issue of attendance, one would think that would be an easy criticism to shoot down if untrue.

But what complicates affairs is that one of Rivera's frequent pro tem judges is the court administrator, Garland Graves, who is also looking at the race. Graves was slated by the Democratic party in 2008 for Superior Court Judge, but he was edged in the primary by slate-buster, Kimberly Brown.

I previously blogged about Graves' low ranking with the Indianapolis Bar Association (IBA) but noted how those rankings seems to disfavor non-judges, and Graves had an extended stint working for the City before his rating. Also, Graves had the lowest number of overall rankings, which means his stock is more susceptible to devaluing through "dirty rush" by those so inclined.

One thing is for sure...if this turns into a three-way, free-for-all, look for a nail-biter.



Doug said...

Might want to change the title to Warren "Township" Warring. I practice in Warren County, seated at Williamsport, IN once or twice a year and thought for a moment that Judge Rader was facing a challenge.

Chris Worden said...

Doug: You are right. I changed it. It's a "county" fight, but saying Warren Township is a lot clearer in a state with a Warren County. Sorry for the confusion!