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Loretta Rush is Indiana's next justice

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As a Purdue University undergrad in the 1970s, Loretta Hogan took off a semester to backpack around Europe with friends. She returned home and completed her studies on time.

Now appointed to serve on the Indiana Supreme Court, Tippecanoe Superior Judge Loretta Hogan Rush takes such feats in her life in stride. She said Purdue “used to let you take 21 (credit) hours. I used to take 18 to 21 hours and work.”
 

supreme04-15col.jpg Tippecanoe Superior Judge Loretta Rush speaks to reporters Sept. 14 after Gov. Mitch Daniels announced her appointment to the Indiana Supreme Court. (IL Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

Rush’s colleagues in the Lafayette legal community say that kind of no-nonsense approach is a hallmark of a judge who handles some of the toughest cases in Tippecanoe County – those involving juvenile justice, children in need of services and other matters of family law. They say Rush melds a tireless work ethic, exacting legal judgment, compassion for children and an engaging demeanor.

“She was able to sit in the lobby at the Cary Quad and she could talk to anybody, no matter who they were,” Lisa V. Schrader recalled of their days at Purdue. Now a private practice attorney in Lafayette, Schrader was a sorority sister with Hogan and introduced the future judge to her future husband, James Rush.

“I think she was an excellent choice,” Schrader said. “She’s always worked hard and given 100 percent and always done the right thing in cases she’s had before her.”

Rush will be only the second woman to serve on Indiana’s Supreme Court. Myra Selby served from 1995-1999, and Gov. Mitch Daniels had been pressured to appoint a woman. Until this appointment, Indiana was among just three states, along with Idaho and Iowa, that had no female justices.

Tippecanoe County Bar Association President Patricia Truitt said there was a buzz early on that Rush might be the one selected.

“We knew a lot of women had thrown their hats in the ring,” Truitt said. “Certainly the hope was that they pick Loretta rather than, ‘We hope they pick a woman.’”

Earlier this month, the Tippecanoe Bar hosted an event called “Hail to Our Chiefs” that honored Indiana Chief Justice Brent Dickson and Court of Appeals Chief Judge Margret Robb, both of whom have deep roots in Lafayette.

Truitt said that Rush, who then was among three finalists for the Supreme Court vacancy, received a standing ovation when she rose to introduce Robb. The appeals court chief’s address focused on inroads that women have made in the legal profession in the last 35 years.

“I think people went out sort of thinking, ‘You know, the time is ripe for a woman and an outstanding woman,’” Truitt said. “I think it was a very good choice, and time will tell if it was truly a brilliant choice.”

Urged on

Rush might not have tossed her hat into the ring without a nudge – or several.

“She had to be persuaded to apply,” said Mike Stapleton, a partner at Ball Eggleston PC in Lafayette who has known Rush for about 25 of the 40 years he’s practiced. Stapleton and others lobbied her.

“It was only after a fair amount of prodding by lawyers and judges that she agreed to do it,” he said.

He said Rush took advantage of mentors, including Dickson, who was a partner at Dickson, Reiling, Teder and Withered when Rush was hired there in 1983. She worked at the firm until 1997, had a private practice for a time, and became a judge in 1998.

“She inherited a financially challenged courtroom situation – it was a couple million dollars in debt. She cleaned up that courtroom and she was clearly the leader and the consensus-maker among the local judges,” Stapleton said. “She has a reputation of being a very tough judge and on top of it being a very nice person, and that’s a really hard thing to do.”

Rush acknowledges her hefty caseload in Tippecanoe Superior Court 3 and said unwinding her obligations means that she probably will join the Supreme Court sometime around the first of November.

“I want to leave my court strong,” she said. “I just want to leave it in good shape.”

Dickson said Rush had indicated as much. “I know she’s very enthusiastic both in doing a sound job to complete the job she’s engaged in but in joining us as well.”

Justice Steven David said he knows Rush well from having worked together on juvenile justice issues. David was a Boone County judge before becoming a justice.

“She was a great trial judge and she’ll be a great addition to this Supreme Court,” David said. “She’s one of those individuals that went to work every day, and every day was a new opportunity to make lives better for families and children.”

The court’s most recent appointee, Justice Mark Massa, said he’s gotten to know Rush during the selection process and since. He noted her work with juvenile justice programs and court technology in particular.

“You look at her résumé and her commitment to the administration of our judicial system across the board, and she’s much more than a case processor. She’s been involved in a lot of things that make the judiciary work,” Massa said. “She will love the job.”

Tough cases

In her application to the Indiana Judicial Nominating Commission, Rush wrote about a case in which she had served as a guardian ad litem in 1986 for a 14-year-old boy, J.S., who had been a ward of the state in a variety of placements since age 2. In 1998, a month before Rush took the bench, John Jesse Swaynie burst into Rush’s home and attempted to kill Rush’s husband.

Rush had to hide the children and get help. She and her husband were injured, and Swaynie, with whom Rush had kept in intermittent telephone contact over the years, later was convicted of attempted murder and burglary.

Rush said it wouldn’t have made sense to leave out such a prominent event. “I think when I had to put the five most significant legal matters I’ve had, it’s hard not to put that,” she said. “It’s not my favorite thing to write.”

But what she wrote about that experience gave insight into the mindset she took to the bench.

“I look at the children that find themselves in our court system and understand the long-standing toll such things as child abuse, neglect and untreated mental health can have on their adult lives,” Rush wrote.

Teri Flory, who runs a private practice in Lafayette that deals primarily with family law, said Rush and her court are highly organized.

“I enjoy practicing in her court because I know she truly cares about the children,” Flory said. “During hearings it’s very evident she remembers the children and remembers their situations.”

She said Rush hears cases that range from minor juvenile delinquency to children in tragic and heartbreaking circumstances. “To continue to hear that day after day, I can’t imagine the kind of outlet she would have to have,” Flory said.

For Rush, it’s family.

“I have a great husband; that helps,” Rush said. “My kids give me a lot of balance and a lot of perspective. Having a great family, great friends, that gives you the balance you need.”

Truitt said Rush will be missed in the Tippecanoe County Courthouse and for the time she gave to the community. But she also said Rush leaves a remarkable example.

“It’s not unusual for modern women to try to do it all,” Truitt said. “And you can’t do it all. But the way you balance priorities tells a lot about a person, I think.”•

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  1. 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

  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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