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7 interview for COA; 3 finalists to be chosen

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The Judicial Nominating Commission interviewed seven semi-finalists today for an opening on the Indiana Court of Appeals.

Now, the seven-member commission is deciding which three will be recommended to Gov. Mitch Daniels as finalists to succeed Judge John T. Sharpnack on the state's second highest appellate court.

Commission members conducted a second round of interviews with the seven semi-finalists, who were chosen in mid-November from an original 15 applicants.

Facing interviews today were: Dubois Superior Judge Elaine B. Brown, Morgan Superior Judge Jane Spencer Craney, Wayne Superior Judge P. Thomas Snow, Dearborn Superior Judge G. Michael Witte, Sen. Brent E. Steele of Bedford firm Steele & Steele, Leslie C. Shively of Shively & Associates in Evansville, and Stephen J. Johnson, executive director of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council.

Each focused their 20- to 30-minute interviews on what they consider their two finest career accomplishments and what two items most need improving at the court.

As far as proudest accomplishments, candidates' responses ranged from specific cases or projects they've handled to various relationships they've nurtured throughout their legal careers.

Judge Snow gave a humbling response after telling the commission about his work on the Judicial Administration Commission and developing the state's weighted caseload system in the 1990s.

"I don't mean to be flippant when I say this, but this is," he said about one of his finest accomplishments. "It's truly an honor to be among the seven highly qualified candidates, and it feels like I'm carrying the ball for the entire east side of the state."

Every candidate spoke about their interest in seeing a new, sixth judicial district added to the court to help keep up with growing caseloads, as well as a push for utilizing technology and e-filing, and making the appellate court more visible to Indiana residents.

One idea that some of the candidates touched on was the need for appellate mediation, specifically post-trial court judgment. Judge Brown mentioned the idea first, noting that it could be used in civil cases by delaying appeal filing by 45 days to get a 25 or 30 percent settlement rate, as seen in other states using the method.

In addition, Judge Brown also brought up several points that expanded on or added new points to what her fellow candidates mentioned. She suggested that appellate attorneys go through a certification process to make sure they have adequate experience and continuing legal education, as well as stationing some appellate judges in their respective judicial districts rather than Indianapolis to help the court's outreach.

Judge Craney noted that it could be time to revisit the court's policy on written opinions and whether more summary affirmations could be made.

At the end of his interview, Judge Witte described his one-time dream of being an Indiana High School Athletic Association referee and used a basketball analogy to describe how he would address competing parties' interests in appeals.

"One thing I learned is you don't care who wins, but by golly you make sure there's a level playing field," he said.

Only Steele and Shively came to the interviews as private practitioners currently representing clients, a point that commissioners focused on and at least one member pointed to as an important issue when considering finalists.

"We're looking at that hard and seriously," said commissioner Sherrill Colvin, an attorney from Fort Wayne.

Once the commission officially submits its recommendations, the governor has 60 days to make a decision. That person will replace Judge Sharpnack when he retires in May.

See the Indiana Lawyer Web site for updates.

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