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Remembering former Indiana Justice Dixon W. Prentice

August 13, 2014
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Indiana Lawyer Commentary

In early 1971 I went to work for the Honorable Dixon W. Prentice, Justice of the Indiana Supreme Court. Although I left a higher-paying job to make the move, it was one of the smartest and most gratifying things I ever did. Justice Prentice was a somewhat quiet man, stern in appearance, and a stickler for Court protocol and the propriety of public office. Over the next two years I would learn that he was a man of principle determined to serve the people of the State of Indiana to the best of his abilities. He was also a kind man and a friend and I mourn his passing in Tucson on July 20th.
 

prentice Prentice

I was the first law clerk he hired after being elected to his seat on the Court. That election was the last in which the justices would face an opponent on the ballot. The law was changed so that they would face a yes-no vote instead, every ten years. As his law clerk I was required to review incoming appeals, research the law, and prepare a proposed opinion. I did my job as thoroughly as I could and didn’t submit anything to the judge until I was satisfied I hadn’t overlooked anything. Given his demeanor and belief in detail and accuracy, I knew nothing short of my best would suffice.

I loved the job and really admired the Judge, who became a friend as well as my superior. I worked hard and he always showed his appreciation, like giving me tickets to ball games he didn’t plan to attend. Although I did extensive research on every case, many times he did additional on his own. He was a stickler for detail and accuracy and wouldn’t settle for anything unless he was sure. Many times he would stay late after everyone was gone and literally burn the “midnight oil.” He had to be absolutely sure that something was right before he signed off on it. He was a truly dedicated public official, as others in the office such as Bea Dickson, his secretary, and Rick Mouser, a law clerk he hired later, would readily attest. Both Bea, a former secretary to Governor Welsh, and Rick, who graduated first in his class, had great respect for Justice Prentice. He deserved every bit of it.

He felt that he and everyone else that worked in his office were servants of the people, and his conduct and office rules reflected it. He insisted that the office not be closed for any reason during normal working hours. He was a good man and a great Judge, who would be perfect as a model for what elected officials should do and how they should conduct themselves.

I had and have the greatest respect for Justice Dixon W. Prentice. After I left the court and was practicing law I represented him in a lawsuit. On another occasion he offered to appoint me as Circuit judge in a southern county where the bench was vacant. I declined but was flattered that he asked me. I saw him and toasted him at his retirement party and stayed in touch after he moved to Tucson. He lived a good full life but now he is gone. I am sad. He and all that he stands for will be sorely missed.•

Rest in peace Your Honor,
Your loyal law clerk, George (Cottrell)
 

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  • Kind words
    Thank you, George, for your kindness in writing about my father Dixon Prentice. He was, as you note, a gentleman who followed the highest ethical principles. We were blessed that he lived such a long full life. He continued to lead by his courageous and loving example untilnthecend of his life.
  • Thank You
    That's my grandpa you speak so highly of. Thanks so much for taking the time to write and post such kind words. I'm also an attorney -- in private practice (Estate & Elder Law) down here in Melbourne, FL. Cheers Mate!! :)

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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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