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Former Indiana Supreme Court chief justice dies

Jennifer Nelson
July 22, 2009
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A Former Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice who was known for his colloquialisms and quick wit died Tuesday morning at his home.

Justice Richard Givan, 88, was remembered by former colleagues for his quick wit, storytelling ability, and mentoring. Many also referred to his "Givanisms," sayings such as, "You pile on too many apples, you can't shove the cart."

Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard, who served with the former justice from 1985 to 1994 and described him as an energetic judge and friend, said Justice Givan would often say, "When the automobile was invented my father's buggy worked just fine, but he bought a car anyway."

Justice Brent Dickson, who joined the Supreme Court in 1986, remembered one of his favoring sayings: "This is like a one-car traffic jam." The "Givanisms" were so popular that those who went to his retirement dinner in January 1995 found Justice Givan's favorite sayings printed out for them to take home.

At his retirement ceremony, he joked about being replaced by former Justice Myra Selby, the first woman to serve on the Indiana Supreme Court.

"I have a lot of faith in women. After all, I live in a sorority house," he said, referring to his wife and four daughters. In fact, he would tell his wife and daughters that he had to come to the office to make decisions once in a while.

The Indianapolis native was elected to the Supreme Court in 1968 and served until his retirement in December 1994; he was the chief justice from November 1974 to March 1987. He authored more than 1,500 majority opinions, dissented in more than 400 cases, and heard nearly 6,000 cases while on the bench.

Justice Dickson described Justice Givan as a model for dealing with the apparent conflict between personal beliefs and judicial duties. As a Quaker, Justice Givan advocated for the repeal of the death penalty statute in Indiana while he was in the legislature, but once he became a judge, he authored many opinions affirming death sentences by trial courts.

"He explained that his obligation under his oath of judicial office to uphold the laws of the State of Indiana prevailed over his personal, moral, and religious beliefs," Justice Dickson said in a statement. "After he retired from the court, Dick Givan resumed his opposition to the death penalty and even testified against it before a legislative committee."

The former chief justice was also a great storyteller, and often a brief or an opinion would remind him of a story with a lesson about how to deal with a client or how to handle a difficult courtroom situation, said Lafayette attorney Jerome L. Withered, who served as a law clerk to Justice Givan in the 1970s. He said the former justice never had trouble making decisions, despite his jokes with his family. The justice compared his role as judge to that of an umpire: Call the balls and strikes as you see them no matter who the players or teams are.

"It was not easy to predict his rulings," he said.

Justice Givan served as a pilot in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II and later was a flight instructor with the Air Corps Reservists. He received his LL.B. from Indiana University in 1951, where he worked as assistant librarian and research assistant to the Indiana Supreme Court. He was admitted to the bar in 1952 and was a fourth-generation lawyer.

Before joining the high court, Justice Givan served as an assistant attorney general, a Marion County deputy prosecutor, worked in private practice, and was a state representative in the 1967 session.

He is survived by his brother William C. Givan; daughters Madalyn Hesson, Sandy Chenoweth, Patty Smith, and Libby Whipple; 14 grandchildren; and 15 great-grandchildren.

The calling will be from 4 to 8 p.m. July 27 at Hall-Baker Funeral Home, 339 E. Main St., Plainfield. The funeral will be at 11 a.m. July 28 at the Fairfield Friends Church, 7040 S. County Road 1050 East, Camby.

Memorial contributions may be sent to Fairfield Friends Meeting General or Building Fund, or to the Hendricks County Community Foundation, 5055 E. Main St., Suite A., Avon, IN 46123, where the Givan Legacy Fund has been established to fund grants for projects that give back to the community.

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  2. 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!!!

  3. 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.

  4. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

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