A Clay County judge who presided over the high-profile murder trial of nurse Orville Lynn Majors will become Indiana's next gambling regulator and the point person in a state review of Donald Trump's plans for the French Lick casino.
Gov. Mitch Daniels on Thursday appointed Ernest E. Yelton, who spent 25 years on the Clay Circuit Court bench, as executive director of the Indiana Gaming Commission. One of Yelton's first tasks will be to review the commission's split decision in July to award the state's 11th casino to Trump's casino company, which is in bankruptcy reorganization.
Daniels also filled the state's other high-profile gambling job by selecting a marketing executive and political fund-raiser to lead the State Lottery Commission. Esther Q. Schneider, 40, who directed marketing at a Las Vegas casino and once ran for Congress in Nevada, will lead the agency.
Daniels said one of her first tasks as she replaces Director Jack Ross will be to restore integrity to the lottery, which is recovering from a scandal involving a rigged $1 million scratch-off ticket game.
"I would like to remove that cloud," she said.
She has experience in rooting out scandal. In 2003, when she became executive director of the Indiana Senate Majority Campaign Committee, she began questioning the accounting and management practices of the former director. She ordered an audit, and now the former leader, Brad Hiller, is under criminal investigation.
"You need to go in and look at the books -- look at everything from the top down," Schneider said.
At the Gaming Commission, Yelton also will lead his own comprehensive review -- of the finances of Trump Hotels and Casino Resorts, and whether the company can build and operate the French Lick casino.
Daniels continued to express concern Thursday about the Trump casino company's finances.
"I want him to look at it promptly," Daniels said, adding that he doesn't want to delay the process of bringing a casino to economically depressed Orange County. "There are still questions about the impact of the bankruptcy."
Yelton, who said he doesn't know many of the project's details yet, echoed those concerns Thursday.
"If you enter into a very important contract and the bidder immediately goes into bankruptcy, to me that's a red flag," said Yelton, who resigned from the bench Thursday.
Yelton, who has gambled at Casino Aztar in Evansville, will be in charge of regulating Indiana's 10 riverboats. He replaces Glenn Lawrence.
The executive director works with a seven-member commission -- all of whom Daniels plans to ask to resign so he can appoint his own team. Rep. Robert Alderman, R-Fort Wayne, said Thursday he still plans to push a bill that would remove all Gaming Commission members so Daniels can fill the spots.
Daniels said he also will ask Yelton to help him move about 100 Indiana State Police troopers from riverboat duty to street patrols. Daniels said he also may have Yelton focus more on problem gambling.
Yelton is known for deftly handling the murder trial of Majors, which ended when Yelton sentenced the former nurse in 1999 to the maximum of 360 years in prison for killing six patients at Vermillion County Hospital.
Greg Hahn, an Indianapolis attorney who dealt with Shelton during lawsuits over the Majors case, now will deal with the judge on Trump matters. Hahn, who is Trump's local attorney, said he expects Shelton to be thorough and fair.
Yelton has been an activist judge who has lobbied for pay increases for judges. He's also known for leading jury reform efforts by re-examining the way jurors are recruited and how they're handled during trials, said Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard.
"We're losing one of our strongest players," Shepard said, "but part of what the public needs is a gaming commissioner (in) whose honesty and rectitude it can have complete confidence."
Ernest E. Yelton
- Position: Executive director, Indiana Gaming Commission
- Age: 56
- Residence: Brazil
- Personal: Married; two children
- Education: Bachelor's and law degrees, Indiana University
- Experience: Judge in Clay Circuit Court since 1979; former president of the Indiana Judges Association; has been a finalist for a judge's post in the U.S. District Court for Southern Indiana and the Indiana Court of Appeals.
Esther Q. Schneider
- Position: Executive director, State Lottery Commission
- Age: 40
- Residence: Indianapolis
- Personal: Married; two stepchildren
- Education: Bachelor's degree, Texas Tech University
- Experience: Executive director, Senate Majority Campaign Committee; former director of advertising and public relations at the Sands Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas; former media buyer at the Imperial Palace Hotel/Casino; candidate for the U.S. House from Nevada in 1998; candidate in 2001 for Clark County (Las Vegas) Board of County Commissioners; developed her own public relations and media buying company in Nevada.