Indiana Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard gave his final State of the Judiciary on Wednesday, recapping not only the past 12 months, but also highlighting court initiatives and changes that have occurred during the quarter century he spent as chief justice.
In his 27-minute speech titled, “On the Way to Something Better,” the chief justice focused on the process of building a more unified and purposeful court system. He detailed achievements that the court and legal community have experienced throughout his tenure.
This was the 25th time Shepard has given the constitutionally required speech to the Indiana General Assembly, and it was his last time doing so before his retirement in March.
“The yesterday of Indiana’s courts lasted largely unchanged over decades, and as in many other states our courts were a collection of silos that rarely connected,” he said. “That began to change about a generation ago, and over time Indiana’s courts have become less like a collection of Lone Rangers and more like a group of colleagues with a common purpose.”
All four of the remaining justices and members of the Indiana Court of Appeals attended, as did dozens of trial court judges and state court officials who watched from the fourth-floor balcony overlooking the House of Representatives. Former Justices Ted Boehm, Myra Selby and Roger DeBruler were also present, along with former Indiana first lady Judy O’Bannon.
Shepard praised court reform efforts to unify state court jurisdictions and allow for more collaboration, including improvements to court technology. He mentioned a statewide case management system that allows women’s shelters direct access to the Protective Order Registry.
The chief justice cited family law and criminal justice as areas where the state judiciary is better equipped to resolve disputes today than it has ever been before. He said Indiana has more volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocates than at any time in the state’s history, with the largest group of 1,010 volunteers being trained in 2011.
Shepard talked about court reform efforts such as simplifying the Indiana Rules of Evidence and ensuring consistent caselaw at the appellate level to provide guidance for trial courts and lawyers, and he said those have helped hold down litigation costs and improve access to the legal system. The chief justice also discussed Indiana State Bar Association efforts to create the first statewide lawyer-leadership academy with the help of Justice Steven David, and credited the Indiana Conference For Legal Education Opportunity with helping the state double the number of minority attorneys practicing in Indiana.
He said the “graciousness” of lawmakers and judges he has worked with over the years “will allow me to leave the stage with full confidence that we will succeed in building Indiana as a safe and prosperous and decent place.
“The scores, if not hundreds of times when members of the General Assembly have been willing partners in improving the delivery of justice have been a great gift,” he said. “Those many moments, and the demonstrated achievements by so many of the men and women on the bench and in the bar, are the reasons why I say that Indiana will have an even better system of justice tomorrow than it has today.”
The full 2012 State of the Judiciary can be viewed online, and an expanded story will appear in the Jan. 20-Feb. 2, 2012, print edition of Indiana Lawyer.