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Longtime Indiana Judicial Center education director retires after 30 years

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Judicial education inside Indiana used to be much more like law school, where a knowledgeable "professor" would stand at the front of a room and lecture to "students" in the audience about a particular topic.

Once, Indiana focused more on academic judicial education than practical forms of teaching the state's trial and appellate judges.

That was how it was three decades ago, before Cathy Springer signed on as the Indiana Judicial Center's education director. She began Feb. 5, 1980, and those intimately involved with the process credit her leadership for transforming the system into a more interactive, judge-taught process via conferences and for those jurists to keep in touch once back in their own communities.

You might not ever know her role in shaping the state's judiciary if not for historical accounts and testimony from those directly involved. Springer is modest and doesn't put the credit on her shoulders, instead noting it's been a team effort touched by many people to get where it is now. But those who've been a part of Indiana's judicial education system say the state wouldn't be a nationally recognized leader without her leadership.

"Cathy is one of those people who for years has been such a treasure for Indiana judiciary," said Gibson Superior Judge Earl Penrod, a current member of the Indiana Judicial Education Committee who chaired the group for several years.

He described her leadership as being akin to how a duck travels across a pond: she moves smoothly across the water without revealing the continuous paddling happening underwater.

"She's unflappable by appearances and makes it look easy, but there's so much incredible work and dedication she has to making this all happen," he said. "She is a hidden gem for Indiana's judges."

After her 30-year career serving the state's judiciary and helping build up the foundation for what judges do in courtrooms across the state, Indiana is now facing a changing of the educational guard as the longtime director is retiring April 30.

"I have truly enjoyed working in this field; it has been a career of a lifetime," Springer said in a news release. "I sincerely appreciate all of the support and the life lessons I have learned over the years and the valuable friendships I have made."

During her career, Springer has been a part of the judicial center team that's coordinated bench-bar conferences and various judicial education programs, including the Indiana Mentor Judge Program in the 1990s that pairs seasoned jurists with those just taking the bench. She has been a member of the National Association of State Judicial Educators and was involved in a standards committee project, which led to publication of the "Principles and Standards of Judicial Branch Education" that guides judicial curriculum development and educational policy.

In 2005, Springer taught at the Leadership Institute of Judicial Education at the University of Memphis. That allowed her to help teach a program that focused on experiential learning, adult education principles, lifespan development, intellectual and ethical development, and personal development as a means for change. She's also served on the advisory boards for the Leadership Institute and Institute for Faculty Excellence in Judicial Education.

That national experience helped her shift the state's focus, Springer said.

In those early years after she started, the state's system was focused more on legal education taught by law professors at the time, she said. But through her leadership, the system shifted to faculty development in which judges would teach judges about practical items like ethics, demeanor, and overall wellness.

In 2000, the spring judicial conferences began after Springer and a small group traveled to leadership institute in Memphis and came back with ideas about changes here. While an annual conference is spelled out by Indiana statute, it wasn't until a decade ago that the three-day conferences began to offer a typical 18-20 half- or full-day programs, she said.

"It goes way beyond a conference and programs ... it goes back with them to where they're from," Springer said. "Each judge makes decisions on their own, but coming to a conference and sharing and learning together is a critical part of the education process. It's bigger than being a judge in your own court  - you're part of a big judicial family."

Former Lake Superior Judge James Richard, who helped set up the state's judicial education system in the 1970s, agreed that Springer is a key reason why the programs are as successful as they are today. He said she has always brought people together to do what's needed, expanding the program from a law school-situated initiative to that of an entire state judiciary. That's a thought echoed by many others involved in the state and national judicial education scene.

Court of Appeals Judge Nancy Vaidik, who led the education committee for four years, said Springer's leadership helped bring more participation into the way judges are educated.

"Cathy is really looked at nationally for her guidance and what she did for Indiana's most-coveted judicial education," Judge Vaidik said. "She's created a system that will continue with her being gone and that's best characteristic of a leader. This extends her fingers into the future."

The difference from what other states do is evident every time he teaches outside Indiana and then returns for a conference or program here, according to Hamilton Superior Judge William Hughes, who's a member of the judicial education committee and has taught judicial education nationally.

"She's made an indelible mark," he said. "I've taught all over the country and seen it presented here and in other states, but those others don't have the same feel as Indiana conferences do. The big difference is they don't have Cathy Springer. We have a lot to be thankful for."

He credits Springer for first getting him involved with judicial education - something he said is now a passion of his.

"I love to teach, but I wouldn't have ever known that if Cathy hadn't encouraged me to do that for a judicial seminar once," the judge said.

One of the biggest changes she's seen in her career has been the evolution of technology and how that impacts judicial education, Springer said. Now, judges are able to keep in touch through e-mail and listservs long after attending a session or conference and information can be simply posted online for more convenience, she said.

Just because she's retiring from fulltime service, Springer expects she'll still be involved as much as possible. She plans to spend more time with family and friends, traveling, and consulting in the adult education field. The Indiana Judicial Center has launched a search for her successor.

Avoiding sole credit for the three decades of accomplishments, Springer said she hopes her legacy helps ensure Indiana's judicial education continues evolving and expanding.

"To see it can go on, that it was not just a product of one person," she said. "I hope people will continue coming together the way they have and those judges who've been here longer will continue giving back to the judiciary."

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