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Commission wraps up interviews, begins deliberations

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The Indiana Judicial Nominating Commissions has finished interviewing the semifinalists who want to replace Frank Sullivan Jr. on the Supreme Court. The commission went into executive session around 4 p.m. Wednesday.

Below are summaries of the four interviews that took place Wednesday afternoon. All applicants were asked about what qualities a justice should possess.

Henry Circuit Judge Mary Willis said the factors were most important in selecting a justice at this time: proven civility and collegiality, and breadth of experience.

“I think this is established by work on leadership committees,” Willis said of her experience. Willis said her legal experience, administrative experience and familiarity with technology would serve the court well. “I think having that background and how they will work together will be a complement.”

Willis said her private practice and experience on bench were of equal importance. “In any decision you're going to draw on that,” she said of her experiences.

Asked about whether she would interpret constitutional issues with a strict reading or holding the documents as living document, Willis would hold to the original writings, but said, “We are privileged to live in a democracy that has constitutions that are able to adapt as we go forward.”

Willis said diversity was important on the Supreme Court, but that could include life experience, personal background and legal experience. “I think different backgrounds will make discussions at the Supreme Court table more robust.”

In Henry County, Willis said the court system had embrace technology through the Odyssey system and other advances. “Technology is the one issue we're going to chase,” she said. “We may be small, but we're mighty.”

Technology is also the issue that she commented on when asked what could best improve the court.

John Young, partner with Young & Young Attorneys in Indianapolis, said the panel should most importantly look for diversity, but not just in terms of race or gender. He said it was important that someone have experience in a diverse array of legal practice.

“I think it's also important that somebody have a great deal of worldly experience,” he said, as well as someone who has leadership abilities. “Somebody who believes that talking to the people is just as important as somebody who talks to the powers that be.”

Dickson asked about whether interpretation of constitutional issues should be done strictly or through an evolving standard. “I would be inclined to try to determine what the founders and the drafters and the ratifiers of the Constitution meant,” Young said, giving deference to the meaning of terms at the time the document was adopted.

Young was asked about whether he's kept up with developments in criminal law after more than two decades away from that practice. He said he does through the traditional avenues of legal publications, advance sheets and websites.

Young said the Supreme Court could be improved by making sure Odyssey was available in all counties throughout the state, and that funding was the key. Where the legislature hasn't provided adequate money, he said, “It's a matter of carving out money from filing fees.”

Hamilton Superior Judge Steve Nation said experience was the major factor that must be considered for a Supreme Court justice. A judge who's managed cases and applied the law will have a deeper understanding of cases as a justice, he said. “The books do not tell you everything.”

“The other item I think you have to have is the ability to work with other people,” Nation said. That includes the ability to see where a judge's opinion is and how it fits in and can supplement the views of the other justices.

Dickson raised the issue of Nation's age. At 62, Nation is the oldest seminfinalist. “My devotion to duty and my devotion to people has never changed,” he said. He noted that the average tenure of Indiana justices has been nine years and he has 13 left to serve.

Asked whether he believed the law or the end result of a decision was most important, Nation said it was difficult for him to make a line distinction between the two, but he said it was important the there was consistency in the way the law was applied.

Nation also said he would interpret matters of constitutionality “as our original founders have given that document.” He said that's the contract on which citizen and lawmakers rely, and “If people want to change it, they have the right to amend it.”

Asked whether civil or criminal cases presented the greatest intellectual challenge, Nation didn't hesitate: civil. “In contracts case and in tort litigation, it's always been intriguing for me,” he said, citing it as a reason why he ran for the bench.

Nation also said the court could improve its communication with the public to make sure people understand what's going on in the court.

Tippecanoe Superior Judge Loretta Rush said humility was an important factory that could lead to judicial restraint. Character also is important. Commission member William Winingham noted that Rush was the lone semifinalist who mentioned humility as an important attribute.

Rush also said a broad and deep basis of professional and life experience was important, as was collegiality and consensus building. She recalled her grandmother’s advice that “ ... a little sugar goes a long way,” and that collegiality “helps us to build on the unbelievable foundation we have in the Supreme Court.”

The experience as a juvenile court judge has been challenging, Rush said, noting that those cases call on multiple disciplines.

Empathy is important in demeanor but not in decisions. “I want everyone to walk out of the courtroom feeling they were heard,” Rush said.

Rush said she would soon be working with a legislative study committee on the Department of Child Services and that it was important to be involved with such efforts. “All that work flows down to the work we do with parents and children,” she said.

Rush also noted, “I always like the Supreme Court decisions where they send a little red flag out to the General Assembly” about an area where legislative clarification might be needed. “I think working with that branch yields so many results.”

Asked about areas where the Supreme Court could improve, Rush said finding equitable and stable funding for the local trial courts was paramount. “We talk like we've never talked before” about funding issues, Rush noted, adding that courts in Kentucky are closing one day per week to save money. She said local trial court funding was an issue of access to justice.

 

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  1. This law is troubling in two respects: First, why wasn't the law reviewed "with the intention of getting all the facts surrounding the legislation and its actual impact on the marketplace" BEFORE it was passed and signed? Seems a bit backwards to me (even acknowledging that this is the Indiana state legislature we're talking about. Second, what is it with the laws in this state that seem to create artificial monopolies in various industries? Besides this one, the other law that comes to mind is the legislation that governed the granting of licenses to firms that wanted to set up craft distilleries. The licensing was limited to only those entities that were already in the craft beer brewing business. Republicans in this state talk a big game when it comes to being "business friendly". They're friendly alright . . . to certain businesses.

  2. Gretchen, Asia, Roberto, Tonia, Shannon, Cheri, Nicholas, Sondra, Carey, Laura ... my heart breaks for you, reaching out in a forum in which you are ignored by a professional suffering through both compassion fatigue and the love of filthy lucre. Most if not all of you seek a warm blooded Hoosier attorney unafraid to take on the government and plead that government officials have acted unconstitutionally to try to save a family and/or rescue children in need and/or press individual rights against the Leviathan state. I know an attorney from Kansas who has taken such cases across the country, arguing before half of the federal courts of appeal and presenting cases to the US S.Ct. numerous times seeking cert. Unfortunately, due to his zeal for the constitutional rights of peasants and willingness to confront powerful government bureaucrats seemingly violating the same ... he was denied character and fitness certification to join the Indiana bar, even after he was cleared to sit for, and passed, both the bar exam and ethics exam. And was even admitted to the Indiana federal bar! NOW KNOW THIS .... you will face headwinds and difficulties in locating a zealously motivated Hoosier attorney to face off against powerful government agents who violate the constitution, for those who do so tend to end up as marginalized as Paul Odgen, who was driven from the profession. So beware, many are mere expensive lapdogs, the kind of breed who will gladly take a large retainer, but then fail to press against the status quo and powers that be when told to heel to. It is a common belief among some in Indiana that those attorneys who truly fight the power and rigorously confront corruption often end up, actually or metaphorically, in real life or at least as to their careers, as dead as the late, great Gary Welch. All of that said, I wish you the very best in finding a Hoosier attorney with a fighting spirit to press your rights as far as you can, for you do have rights against government actors, no matter what said actors may tell you otherwise. Attorneys outside the elitist camp are often better fighters that those owing the powers that be for their salaries, corner offices and end of year bonuses. So do not be afraid to retain a green horn or unconnected lawyer, many of them are fine men and woman who are yet untainted by the "unique" Hoosier system.

  3. I am not the John below. He is a journalist and talk show host who knows me through my years working in Kansas government. I did no ask John to post the note below ...

  4. "...not those committed in the heat of an argument." If I ever see a man physically abusing a woman or a child and I'm close enough to intercede I will not ask him why he is abusing her/him. I will give him a split second to cease his attack and put his hands in the air while I call the police. If he continues, I will still call the police but to report, "Man down with a gunshot wound,"instead.

  5. And so the therapeutic state is weaonized. How soon until those with ideologies opposing the elite are disarmed in the name of mental health? If it can start anywhere it can start in the hoosiers' slavishly politically correct capital city.

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