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Question isn't just who will replace retiring Judge Sims, but who decides?

Commission that will review candidates needs members to be appointed

Tuesday, February 19, 2013 - 6:24 pm

Allen Superior Court Judge Steve Sims' announced retirement didn't just start the clock for his impending departure. It also brought into focus that the body charged with recommending his successor needs three more members before it can even begin to do just that.

The Allen Superior Court Judicial Nominating Commission, created by state statute, is to have three local attorneys, three local non-attorneys and the Chief Justice of the Indiana Supreme Court. The commission's role is a vital one: It will review the applications and interview the candidates for the court's judicial vacancies - including the one created by Sims' retirement, which he announced for April 26 - and will then forward three names to Gov. Mike Pence for consideration.

Pence would then select Sims' successor from those three candidates, with the statute stating the successor must be in place within 60 days.

The three local attorneys on the nominating commission are Edward E. Beck of Shambaugh Kast Beck & Williams; James J. O'Connor of Barrett & McNagny; and Suzan Rutz of Helmke Beams. Last September, Indiana Supreme Court Justice Steven David was designated as the chairman of the commission.

That leaves the three local non-attorneys...and, according to Christopher M. Nancarrow, the chief deputy to the office of the Clerk of Courts, those members aren't in place. Yet. Whoever those three individuals are - Nancarrow said even he isn't sure who is being considered - they have yet to be named, with those determinations again made by Pence.

Nancarrow said that is the next step in the process. Supreme Court Judge David would then call a meeting of the nominating commission, with the Clerk of Courts then opening, at some point shortly thereafter, a 30-day window for applicants to submit their qualifications for review.

Rutz, Beck and O'Connor were elected last fall to the nominating commission by members of the Allen County Bar Association. Their terms last until 2015.

Beck said Tuesday that, with Sims' announced departure, the "expectation is that (the selection of the rest of the nominating commission) will move fairly quickly."

Beck said that while Sims' departure is slightly out of the ordinary - Sims' current term on the bench didn't expire until 2014, which is how long the replacement would be in place before local elections take place - he wasn't shocked by it.

"(I was) surprised when I started hearing the rumblings (that Sims was considering retirement), so by the time the official announcement was made, I wasn't surprised then," Beck said. "We will do our best to select good candidates. Ideally, we would find someone like him."

Sims was Allen County prosecutor from 1983 to 1994 and hearing/magistrate officer in Allen Circuit Court from 1995 to 1996. He took the bench in Allen Superior Court in 1997.