5 make first cut for Court of Appeals vacancy

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A consumer protection official, a public defender, two judges and a law professor are semifinalists for a position on the Indiana Court of Appeals.

The Indiana Judicial Nominating Commission on May 16 selected Abigail Lawlis Kuzma, of Indianapolis; Patricia Caress McMath, of Indianapolis; Madison Circuit Judge Rudolph R. Pyle III, of Anderson; Joel M. Schumm, of Indianapolis; and Marion Superior Judge Robert R. Altice Jr., of Indianapolis. The five were chosen from a field of 14 applicants vying to fill the vacancy that will be created when appellate Judge Carr Darden retires in July.

Each of the semifinalists will be interviewed a second time June 4 or 5. The commission then will select three finalists whose names will be sent to Gov. Mitch Daniels, who will make the appointment.

The commission, chaired by Chief Justice Brent Dickson, asked candidates what they most admired about the Court of Appeals and what qualities they would bring, if selected.  

kuzma-bigaillawlis-mug.jpg Kuzma

Kuzma, who leads the Office of the Indiana Attorney General’s consumer protection division, said she appreciated the court’s efforts to reach out to Hoosiers through its website, plain language jury instructions, and “appeals on wheels,” in which appellate panels travel the state for oral arguments.

Kuzma stressed her organizational leadership and prior charitable work as co-founder of the Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic in Indianapolis. At the consumer protection division, she oversees a staff of about 100 people, including 35 attorneys, who focus on fraud prevention, foreclosure prevention and other consumer issues. “It’s very rewarding but also a very diverse experience of helping people,” she said. “I am a high-energy person.”

McMath McMath

McMath is one of three former Court of Appeals law clerks who made the cut. She handles appeals for the Marion County Public Defender Agency.

She said she admired the court for making “a written appeal in every case, so Hoosiers know” why the case was decided as it was. “It’s a remarkable thing considering that kind of caseload.”

McMath said her familiarity with appeals was a strong suit. “I have vast experience with appellate law,” she said, citing seven years as a clerk for two judges and 15 years as a public defender working exclusively in the appeals court.

Pyle Pyle

Pyle, a Madison Circuit judge, also clerked at the Court of Appeals for the man he hopes to succeed – Darden. He said he was impressed by the court’s emphasis on civility and recalled when writing as a law clerk being impressed by the respectful tone of dissents.

“I’m committed to that process,” Pyle said.

He stressed his diversity of experience that includes being an Indiana state trooper, deputy prosecutor, defense attorney, running a private practice, and being appointed and elected to the bench.

“I’ve had the opportunity to see the law on almost every level,” he said.

altice-robert-mug Altice

Altice, a longtime Marion Superior judge, said he knows the judges on the appeals court through his years on the bench.

“Probably the biggest skill I bring is experience,” he said, including trying more than 270 criminal cases, including 40 murder cases; and bringing more than 100 cases as a prosecutor.

“I try to build consensus wherever I can,” Altice said. “It’s just the nature of my personality.”

Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law professor Joel Schumm is among those who have experience as an appeals court clerk. He stressed his academic background and said he admired “the way the Court of Appeals guarantees an absolute right to one appeal.”

Joel Schumm mug Schumm

Schumm said that he would bring a fitting work ethic to a court that generates more than 2,000 opinions per year.

Of his attributes, he said, “the biggest one is writing and analytical ability. … Writing excellent opinions.”

Other applicants were: Marion Superior Judge Cynthia J. Ayers, of Indianapolis; Jeffrey D. Wehmueller, of Fishers; Carol Nemeth Joven, of Indianapolis; Bryce D. Owens, of Pendleton; Brenda A. Roper, of Indianapolis; Rebecca A. Trent, of West Lafayette; Howard Superior Judge William C. Menges Jr., of Kokomo; Chris M. Teagle, of Albany; and Kari Evans Bennett, of Noblesville.•


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  1. I think the cops are doing a great job locking up criminals. The Murder rates in the inner cities are skyrocketing and you think that too any people are being incarcerated. Maybe we need to lock up more of them. We have the ACLU, BLM, NAACP, Civil right Division of the DOJ, the innocent Project etc. We have court system with an appeal process that can go on for years, with attorneys supplied by the government. I'm confused as to how that translates into the idea that the defendants are not being represented properly. Maybe the attorneys need to do more Pro-Bono work

  2. We do not have 10% of our population (which would mean about 32 million) incarcerated. It's closer to 2%.

  3. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  4. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  5. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.