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Private Judges

The Indiana Legislature has provided by statute that, in certain circumstances, litigants could agree to try certain civil cases before a private judge who is compensated by the litigants. Indiana Code 33-38-10-1 et seq.

Who may serve as a private judge

A person who is not currently a judge of a circuit, superior, criminal, probate, municipal, or county court, but who has served as a judge for at least four (4) consecutive years may serve as a private judge. A private judge must be admitted to the practice of law in Indiana and must be an Indiana resident. A former judge who wishes to serve as a private judge must register with the chief administrative officer of the office of judicial administration. The chief administrative officer must compile and periodically update a list of registered private judges which shall be made available to the public. For the most current list of registered private judges, please go to “Roster of Registered Private Judges.”

When a private judge may act

A private judge may act as a judge in a case only if:

  • All parties to the action have filed a written petition with the chief administrative officer of the office of judicial administration consenting to the case being heard by a private judge, and naming the individual whom they wish to have as a private judge;
  • The case is one over which the court in which the former judge served would have had subject matter and monetary jurisdiction;
  • The case is founded exclusively on contract, tort, or a combination of contract and tort;
  • The case is one in which a utility is not a party.

How to hire a private judge

Parties to an action that qualifies for trial before a private judge (see above) who wish to have it heard by a private judge must submit to the chief administrative officer a written petition requesting a private judge and naming the judge. The chief administrative officer shall verify that the former judge is qualified as required by the above statutory provisions and shall forward the petition to the selected private judge.

The parties should then obtain the written consent of the private judge. Upon obtaining the consent, the parties should then file the written consent and the petition for private judge in the court where the case is filed. The parties may present the petition and consent either contemporaneously with the filing of the case in the trial court or after the case has been filed. The regular judge of the court in which the case is filed shall appoint the private judge to hear the case, upon the parties satisfying the above requirements.

How private judges are paid

A private judge may receive compensation for hearing a case in an amount and subject to the terms and conditions agreed to by the judge and the parties to the case. A contract for the services of a private judge must provide for the payment of the judge’s compensation by the parties. In addition the contract must include terms for compensation of all personnel and the costs of facilities and materials as determined by the Clerk of the Circuit Court.

Procedural rules for cases before private judges

  • All trials conducted by a private judge shall be conducted without a jury.
  • A person serving as a private judge has, for each case that he or she hears, the same powers as the judge of a circuit court in relation to court procedure, deciding the outcome of a case, attendance of witnesses, punishment of contempt, enforcement of orders, administering of oaths, and giving all necessary certificates for the authentication of the records and proceedings.
  • All proceedings shall be of record, which shall be filed with the Clerk of the Circuit Court in the county of proper venue and made available to the public in the same manner as circuit court records.
  • The Indiana Rules of Trial Procedure apply to all actions, and appeals may be taken in the same manner as an appeal from the circuit court.
  • Costs shall be taxed and distributed in the same manner as a case brought in a circuit court.
  • The Clerk of the Circuit Court shall serve as the clerk of court for the case and the sheriff shall serve as the sheriff of the court for the case. They shall attend the proceedings and perform the same duties relating to their offices, as they are required to do for the circuit court of the county in which the case is filed.
  • The Clerk of the Circuit Court shall provide to a private judge all the necessary books, dockets, papers, and printed blanks necessary to discharge the duties of the court.

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