Judicial Retention FAQs

Every year, just after the election, someone asks me, “Should I have voted for Judge Whats-his-robe?  I didn’t know if he’s any good.”  The judicial retention vote is a bit like the “CE” button on a calculator.  We all think we know how it works and why it’s there, but we can’t explain it. So, in an effort to make us all more confident of the unknown, here are some FAQs of the 2012 judicial retention voting:

Why do we have retention votes for judges and justices?

Because Indiana amended its constitution in 1970.  The retention system is seen as a balance between the desire for an independent judiciary which shields judges from the fray of partisan politics, and the need for accountability.

How does it work?

Judges and justices of the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, and Tax Court must stand for a retention vote 2 years after their initial appointment, and every 10 years after that.  A majority “Yes” vote means the judge stays, a majority “No” means the judge goes. More details here.

Has any Indiana judge or justice ever not been retained?

No.  But Iowa, which has a similar system, did dismiss some of its judges a couple of years ago through a retention vote system.

Will all of the judges up for vote be on my ballot?

No.  The Supreme Court Justices (David and Rucker) will, but the Court of Appeals has districts, so not every candidate will show up on every voter’s ballot.  You can go to the Indiana voter registration website and see who exactly will be on your ballot.

How do I learn more about each judge or justice?

The state has biographical information listed here, with links to decisions written by each candidate.

Why does the Supreme Court have “Justices” while the other Courts have “Judges”?

Because it’s in the Indiana Constitution that way. Article 7, Section 2 states: “The Supreme Court shall consist of the Chief Justice of the State and not less than four nor more than eight associate justices.”  Section 5 identifies the Court of Appeals as consisting of “judges.”

Any predictions?

I think the Colts will surprise many and win 8 games this year, but —

I mean about the judicial elections.  Do you think there will be any surprises?

No.  There has been some opposition to Justice David over the 2011 Barnes decision, which I have written about before, but I do not think it is organized enough to remove him from the bench.  Generally, judicial retention follows the rule “No news is good news” for those on the bench.

The Digital Estate of Confusion

The phrase “Digital Estate” has evolved to include all manner of information and assets, stored locally and online. But you don’t need to have a Ph.D. in Nerdology or drift into an electron-induced coma when the subject of digital assets comes up. The basics are pretty simple.

Dude, Wheres my Digital Estate?

If you’re like me, you use a computer, a tablet, or a smart phone to do just about everything – save and edit pictures, take notes, keep a calendar, communicate with family and friends through email and social media, and research important issues such as how curling became a bona fide sport.

These “digital assets” make up an increasingly larger portion of our stuff. Many of these have value to me and perhaps to my family – such as my Flickr or Facebook account. Some are personal financial records kept on Dropbox, Evernote, iCloud, or any other online storage management system. Others are not online but saved on a hard drive or thumb drive at home. The value of these assets varies widely. While a carefully photoshopped image of Ruth Bader Ginsburg at Sturgis, or the much-coveted Nixon Meets Elvis photo might not be much of a financial investment, how much have I paid to iTunes in the last five years? What about an online store presence on eBay?

The Odd Life of Timothys Green E-book Collection.

Today, physical assets still outpace electronic-only versions for most Americans. Consumers who spend money on music downloads spend on average $13.31 monthly, compared with $17.94 on CDs. In a typical month, consumers who purchase e-books on their mobile devices spend an average of $15.34, compared with $20.23 on paperbacks.

Suppose a 30 year-old music lover has been buying digital and CD music, and e-books and paperbacks for 5 years at these rates. If he continues to spend at these rates, and if prices of CDs and digital music never increase, his purchases would follow this chart, roughly.Image

When this prodigious purchaser is 70 years old, he’ll have nearly $20,000 in digital assets of just music and e-books. Of course, if he gradually buys more digital content, and fewer CDs and paperbacks, that amount would only increase. Most people will want to find ways to protect these assets, and will increasingly demand methods to convey these to their heirs.

License to Illegally transfer your music?

The biggest difference between your weird uncle’s collection of classic rock LPs and your iTunes account is that an LP, cassette tape, or CD allowed for the ownership of a physical medium. While Uncle Shamus’s purchase of Rush: Roll the Bones never entitled him to sell tickets for his friends to listen to the Canadian Power Trio in Grandma’s house – hey, he was a visionary– it did allow him to pass the LP to you in his will.

But iTunes and other digital stores are a bit different. My purchases in iTunes are merely a license. Presently, iTunes does NOT permit any type of transfer. I cannot, consistent with terms of use of my license with iTunes, sell or give you my right to use the music I have downloaded. Without an exception for my probate estate–which does not presently exist–I can’t give it to anyone when I die, either. That might seem unfair, after all, I “own” it. But ownership is a nebulous thing in the world of licenses. So, sadly, that e-copy of the Telly Savalas autobiography cannot be passed onto my beneficiaries. Not legally anyway. It’s toast. But take heart — at least you can still pass on the Kojak VHS tapes collecting dust in the back of your closet. Who loves you, baby?

Hey, You, Get Off of My Cloud-Based Storage Service.

Whatever you might think of online or cloud-based services, they are here to stay. Fortunately for Hoosiers, Indiana allows for the executor of an estate to demand access to any electronically-stored information upon showing of a death certificate or court order. See Ind. Code § 29-1-13-1.1. But rather than have your family wait months after sending formal legal papers to a multinational corporation, only to have the request land on the desk of the Vice President in Charge of Making it Impossible for Regular People to Access Our Server Farms, I suggest a simpler approach. Write down all your passwords. On paper. With ink. Keep a copy with your will. That way, your executor does not have to find the Rosetta Stone to your passwords.

Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking sites have developed policies for dealing with a deceased account holder. Each can delete an account entirely, with proper documentation. While it’s hard to think that when I’m gone, my family will want to preserve all my zinger-tweets made during the Rachel Maddow Show (“Up next, @RachelMaddow fights @Voldemort in the Chamber of Secrets!”), it could happen.

Besides deletion, Facebook also allows you to “Memorialize” an account to allow it to live on but without future changes or updates. I cannot be the only person to think that it’s incredibly creepy to contemplate my Facebook profile living on when I’m gone. Will my timeline continue to register my activity in eternity? Maybe it will. At least then we’ll all know that Mitch Albom is a liar.