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Annual address praises court activity despite economy, changing times

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Even though times are tough, the Indiana chief justice says the Hoosier judiciary remains strong and continues to be a leader that other states look to as an example.

Giving his 24th annual State of the Judiciary speech before a joint session of the Indiana General Assembly on Jan. 12, Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard praised the state court system’s efforts during the past year that have materialized despite the economic climate and lack of resources for everyone.

Referring to the public commentary that is happening in Indiana and nationwide on how broken government is and that public leaders aren’t listening to constituents, the chief justice talked about how the legal community has responded and proven that it can rise above the economic crisis.
 

state-judiciary2011-15col Indiana Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard gave his annual State of the Judiciary on Jan. 12 in front of the Indiana General Assembly. This marked the 24th time he has delivered that speech before a joint session of state lawmakers. (IL Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

“In short, Indiana’s judiciary is one that keeps its feet planted firmly on this territory, on Hoosier soil, while keeping its eyes on the horizon,” Chief Justice Shepard said. He highlighted four areas where he observed the state courts thriving during 2010.

Mortgage foreclosures: With foreclosure filings higher last year than in 2009 and many courts burdened with those cases, the chief justice highlighted how homeowners now have the opportunity to participate in a settlement conference. He stated that more than 40 percent of homeowners respond when a court sends out a separate settlement notice. The conferences are currently used in counties having 60 percent of the foreclosures, and Chief Justice Shepard said they’ll be implemented statewide by the end of this year, along with the best practices document State Court Administration recently published to help judges outline case management plans.

Smarter sentencing: As the state legislature discusses how to revise sentencing so that high-risk offenders receive appropriate sentences and are incarcerated, the chief justice explained that local corrections officials have already been tackling that issue. He discussed how a risk assessment tool recently became mandatory for every criminal and delinquency court statewide, and he said that 2,300 probation officers, judges, and court staff have been trained to use it.

Technology: Praising the continued implementation of the statewide case management system called Odyssey, the chief justice said it is currently being used in 77 courts in 26 counties and at least 175 courts are on a waiting list to participate. The participation reflects use in a third of the state’s courts since the project began in late 2007, and he urged lawmakers to temporarily increase from $7 to $10 the automated record-keeping fee to help speed up the process. The chief justice also praised other technology avenues that have been put into place during the past year, including electronic notification systems tracking police citations, protective orders in domestic violence cases, and when someone is adjudicated mentally ill so those individuals can be kept from obtaining firearms.

Jury instructions: The chief justice stated that the state unveiled new instructions last fall, taking much of the legalese out of courtroom instructions and replacing it with examples and language that non-attorneys can easily understand.

“The men and women of the Indiana courts tackle all these issues and more, both through long-range strategic planning and through immediate action,” Chief Justice Shepard said. “So, it’s with the men and women of Indiana’s courts, who’ve proven themselves able at diagnosing a defect or identifying an opportunity, recruiting talented people, and capable of seizing the moment on the basis of the best ideas available.”•

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  1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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