Prosecutors Forum Follow-Up
On September 20, we hosted our Crime Summit 2.0: Prosecutors Forum. Candidates for Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears (incumbent) and Cyndi Carrasco came together to answer questions from our community.
One hundred fifty questions were submitted by Marion County residents and boiled down to be asked by moderator Jill Sheridan of WFYI.
After the summit, and in the days following, we received several questions regarding a couple of claims made during the summit.
We have done our best to research the issues and have put this post together to provide accurate information regarding these questions.
Are Marion County Residents Now Able to Vote For Judges?
Claim: Marion County judges are not on the ballot/Marion County does not have the right to vote for our judges. (1:03:19)
Does Marion County have the right to vote for our judges? Prosecutor Ryan Mears claimed not during Crime Summit 2.0: Prosecutors Forum.
Many after the event and since have asked us, “Then why do we see judges’ campaign signs on our streets and their names on the ballot?” We did some research, spoke with a judge, and went straight to Indiana Code to find out how judges are elected and appointed in Marion County.
The answer: it depends on what court the judge is presiding over.
Superior Court Judges
The superior court in Marion County consists of 36 presiding judges with numerous magistrates. Yes, these judges are appointed by the Governor, as Prosecutor Mears stated during Crime Summit 2.0: Prosecutors Forum
When a vacancy occurs due to retirement, health, death, or any other reason, the appointment process begins according to Indiana Code 33-33-49-13.1 through 13.7. Any person, usually an attorney or magistrate, may apply to fill an open position.
A fourteen-member judicial selection committee then vets and interviews the applicants before nominating a final three applicants to the governor. The governor has 60 days to appoint one of the nominees as judge to complete the remainder of the unfinished term.
Of the 36 superior court judges in Marion County, there has historically been an even split of 18 Democrat and 18 Republican judges.
So why do we still see superior court judges on the ballot? If a superior court judge would like to remain on the bench when the term ends, he or she must file for retention. This is what we see on the ballot: “Shall Judge (insert name) be retained in office?”
If the judge is approved by voters, he or she begins an additional six-year term. If the judge is rejected, the position becomes vacant on January 1 of the following year, and the appointment process, as previously described, begins again.
Circuit Court Judges
There are 92 circuit court judges in Indiana, one in each county. This court, along with the Supreme court, is a constitutional court. Per the Indiana constitution, circuit court judges require a traditional election.
Here’s where it becomes tricky. When a circuit court vacancy occurs, the same committee nomination process commences. However, circuit court judges must run for re-election in the next general election.
To illustrate, Judge Tiffany Vivo is the current presiding judge in the Marion County circuit court. Judge Vivo was appointed by Governor Holcomb when her predecessor, Judge Sheryl Lynch, retired in 2021, and she began serving as presiding Marion County circuit court judge on January 1, 2022.
Despite the several years remaining in what would have been Judge Lynch’s term, Judge Vivo must run for re-election in this cycle. She is running against Amber Collins-Gebrehiwet. Marion County voters will vote on this race like any other.
Clarification: Circuit court judges are elected by voters in the traditional sense. Superior court judges are appointed by the governor and then may file for retention to be decided by the electorate. Vacancies in either court are filled by gubernatorial appointment.
Claim: Prosecutor Ryan Mears has been the elected prosecutor for about three years. (12:24)
Marion County’s former prosecutor, the late Terry Curry, was elected by voters in 2010 and reelected in both 2014 and 2018. Curry stepped down from the position in September 2019 due to health reasons and appointed then-Chief Trial Deputy Ryan Mears as interim prosecutor.
In accordance with the law, within 30 days, a caucus of the Marion County precinct committee persons from the Democratic party were responsible for electing the person who would complete Curry’s term (ending Dec 31, 2022).
The election was between Ryan Mears and Tim Moriarty, then-top mayoral aide. According to this WISHTV article published in October 2019, 305 out of 376 eligible voters from that committee submitted ballots, selecting Ryan Mears as Curry’s replacement.
Clarification: Ryan Mears was elected, but not by Marion County voters, to the position of Marion County Prosecutor.
We hope this clears up some misunderstandings in the prosecutors’ forum. If you have any further questions, you may ASK THEM HERE, and we will do our best to track down accurate information for you.