Darden winds down his appellate career

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

Indiana Court of Appeals Judge Carr Darden has worked every day since he was 13, but that’s soon going to change.

The state’s mandatory retirement age of 75 for appellate judges is knocking on Darden’s door, requiring him to step down this summer from the job he’s held for almost 18 years.

carr darden Indiana Court of Appeals Judge Carr Darden will wrap up a 40-year legal career when he retires from the state’s intermediate appellate court in July, the month he reaches the mandatory retirement age of 75. (IBJ Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

Darden submitted a letter Jan. 3 to the Indiana chief justice and the governor’s office announcing he will retire as a full-time appellate judge on his 75th birthday, July 21. He plans to stay until the last day, balancing the line between “leaving too early” and staying around until he’s “ineffective or callous in judging.”

Darden said he’s been preparing for several months, hoping to ease into retirement with a smooth transition.

“There’s no doubt I would say yes, that I’d stay on longer if the law didn’t say I had to leave at this point,” he said. “But on the other hand, I look at all the years I’ve worked and this is a relief in that sense.”

Darden was appointed by Gov. Evan Bayh in 1994 to fill a vacancy created by Judge Stanley B. Miller’s death. He graduated in 1970 from Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law and spent the first part of his career in the State Public Defender’s Office and Marion County Public Defender’s Office.

Darden originally laughed at the idea of becoming a judge when others suggested it, but he later became a Marion County master commissioner to see if it was a career path he’d like to pursue. That led to him serving on the Marion Municipal and Superior courts in the late 1980s and early 90s until his appointment to the COA.

Since then, caseloads have increased by more than 14 percent and Darden said much of the way the court does business has changed significantly – from technological changes to how the appellate panels are structured to decide cases. When he started, the panels were divided up by each of the four judicial districts instead of the rotating nondistrict-focused organization the appellate court uses now. That meant each panel was together for at least two years instead of only a few months as they are now before a random rotation of new judges occurs.

But change has been a good thing. Darden said the court collaborated better after blurring those divisional lines.

“Now when we speak, we do so as a unified court of appeals that operates in three-judge panels representing the state,” he said. “That was a significant change.”

Darden doesn’t discount the significance his presence on the court has had in the area of diversity – he’s the only African-American on the Court of Appeals since Justice Robert Rucker left the intermediate appellate bench to join the Supreme Court in 1999. He hopes diversity will be a consideration when his successor is chosen to ensure at least the same minority representation on the court.

“I wish I could guarantee another African-American could be a part of the process,” he said. “Having diversity on the court makes an impact, since we can enlighten each other on our own views and reading of the laws. We shouldn’t blindly follow that, but know that diversity is important and needed because everyone has to be represented in what we’re doing here.”

Darden said he spoke with Chief Justice Randall Shepard in August about his retirement, indicating he would gradually phase out his leadership responsibilities. Darden decided to submit his letter at the start of 2012 to allow the Indiana Judicial Nominating Commission enough time to begin interviewing judicial applicants.

Shepard’s announcement in mid-December about his plan to retire in March was a surprise, Darden said, and he wonders how that will impact the selection process for his replacement. The process to find Darden’s successor has not yet started.

To prepare for his retirement, Darden stepped down from leadership roles with the Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program Committee, the Criminal Court Benchbook Committee of the Indiana Judges Association and the Senior Judges Committee for the Indianapolis Bar Association. He isn’t able to decrease his caseload, but he has started saying no to new assignments in order to allow others to take on those tasks.

“My staff doesn’t like to leave me alone, because it seems like every time they step away, I’m answering the phone talking and agreeing to something,” he said. “I’m cutting back on that.”

The Judicial Family Institute has said that retirement is something too many judges fail to adequately think about while they’re on the bench, not considering how they’ll truly feel about being retired before they get to that stage.

Senior judges who’ve gone through the retirement process say that the administrative planning Darden’s doing is about all that anyone can do before stepping down. How much a judge can gradually withdraw depends on the level of activity and involvement each person has.

Senior Judge Patrick D. Sullivan, who left the Court of Appeals in 2007 after four decades, said he evaluated in advance of his retirement whether he could continue to contribute as a senior judge.

“You have to know when your time’s come and look ahead to what you’ll want to realistically do,” he said.

No other Court of Appeals judges are required to retire soon due to age, but that doesn’t mean they can’t choose to leave at any point, court administrator Steve Lancaster said.

“There’s not much you can actually do and plan for until there’s a new judge named, but you can gather your resources and energy mentally,” he said. “We don’t assign cases differently and there’s really not a lot the court can do about the loss of experience because that’s inherent. You really have to make sure the staff is ready for a smooth transition and the new judge has the ability to hit the ground running.”

Darden plans to be a senior judge at the appellate and trial court levels, but he is concerned about how much the trial court experience has changed in the nearly 18 years he has been a COA judge.

Darden recalls a conversation with his friend, U.S. Senior Judge William Steckler, prior to his death. For so long, Steckler said, he and his wife had put off “living life off the bench” until he retired, and then within only a few years of his retirement, she died. Darden has used that experience as guidance in his own life, traveling and spending time with his family and doing church activities as much as he can.

“I’ve been living my life while on the bench, not waiting until after I’ve left,” he said, noting that he and his wife of 57 years have maintained a balance between his judicial work and leisure. “This has been the best job in the world and this is my home, but we’ve tried to make sure we’re not waiting for something that might never come.”•


Post a comment to this story

We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. I have an open CHINS case I failed a urine screen I have since got clean completed IOP classes now in after care passed home inspection my x sister in law has my children I still don't even have unsupervised when I have been clean for over 4 months my x sister wants to keep the lids for good n has my case working with her I just discovered n have proof that at one of my hearing dcs case worker stated in court to the judge that a screen was dirty which caused me not to have unsupervised this was at the beginning two weeks after my initial screen I thought the weed could have still been in my system was upset because they were suppose to check levels n see if it was going down since this was only a few weeks after initial instead they said dirty I recently requested all of my screens from redwood because I take prescriptions that will show up n I was having my doctor look at levels to verify that matched what I was prescripted because dcs case worker accused me of abuseing when I got my screens I found out that screen I took that dcs case worker stated in court to judge that caused me to not get granted unsupervised was actually negative what can I do about this this is a serious issue saying a parent failed a screen in court to judge when they didn't please advise

  2. I have a degree at law, recent MS in regulatory studies. Licensed in KS, admitted b4 S& 7th circuit, but not to Indiana bar due to political correctness. Blacklisted, nearly unemployable due to hostile state action. Big Idea: Headwinds can overcome, esp for those not within the contours of the bell curve, the Lego Movie happiness set forth above. That said, even without the blacklisting for holding ideas unacceptable to the Glorious State, I think the idea presented above that a law degree open many vistas other than being a galley slave to elitist lawyers is pretty much laughable. (Did the law professors of Indiana pay for this to be published?)

  3. Paul Hartman of Burbank, Oh who is helping Sister Fuller with this Con Artist Kevin Bart McCarthy scares Sister Joseph Therese, Patricia Ann Fuller very much that McCarthy will try and hurt Patricia Ann Fuller and Paul Hartman of Burbank, Oh or any member of his family. Sister is very, very scared, (YES, I AM) This McCarthy guy is a real, real CON MAN and crook. I try to totall flatter Kevin Bart McCARTHY to keep him from hurting my best friends in this world which are Carolyn Rose and Paul Hartman. I Live in total fear of this man Kevin Bart McCarthy and try to praise him as a good man to keep us ALL from his bad deeds. This man could easy have some one cause us a very bad disability. You have to PRAISAE in order TO PROTECT yourself. He lies and makes up stories about people and then tries to steal if THEY OWN THRU THE COURTS A SPECIAL DEVOTION TO PROTECT, EX> Our Lady of America DEVOTION. EVERYONE who reads this, PLEASE BE CAREFUL of Kevin Bart McCarthy of Indianapolis, IN My Phone No. IS 419-435-3838.

  4. Joe, you might want to do some reading on the fate of Hoosier whistleblowers before you get your expectations raised up.

  5. I had a hospital and dcs caseworker falsify reports that my child was born with drugs in her system. I filed a complaint with the Indiana department of health....and they found that the hospital falsified drug screens in their investigation. Then I filed a complaint with human health services in Washington DC...dcs drug Testing is unregulated and is indicating false positives...they are currently being investigated by human health services. Then I located an attorney and signed contracts one month ago to sue dcs and Anderson community hospital. Once the suit is filed I am taking out a loan against the suit and paying a law firm to file a writ of mandamus challenging the courts jurisdiction to invoke chins case against me. I also forwarded evidence to a u.s. senator who contacted hhs to push an investigation faster. Once the lawsuit is filed local news stations will be running coverage on the situation. Easy day....people will be losing their jobs soon...and judge pancol...who has attempted to cover up what has happened will also be in trouble. The drug testing is a kids for cash and federal funding situation.