Dickson named chief justice as court faces ‘upheaval’

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Brent E. Dickson was selected Indiana chief justice Tuesday after his Supreme Court colleagues unanimously said he embodied the leadership qualities needed during a period of transition.

Dickson had been named acting chief after longtime chief justice Randall T. Shepard retired in March. Shepard was replaced by Mark Massa.

Since then, Justice Frank Sullivan Jr. announced he, too, was resigning, and Dickson said Tuesday that the court’s other long-serving jurist, Robert Rucker, had not decided whether to run for retention in November. Rucker’s office had no immediate comment, but Supreme Court public information officer Kathryn Dolan said Rucker has until mid-July to decide.

After his unanimous selection by the Judicial Nominating Commission, Dickson said he had not considered himself a candidate until he heard from judges and legal professionals around the state who were seeking stability on the court.

“There were a growing number of voices that persuaded me,” Dickson said. “Our employees needed to know civility was going to reign.”

He credited Shepard for nurturing a civil atmosphere on the court and said he wished to continue that tone and court programs Shepard championed and developed during his 25 years as chief.

The commission invited each justice to share views of the qualities needed in a chief justice. Massa, Steven David and Rucker each said Dickson embodied those most needed in a transitional period for the court that some called unprecedented.

Dickson will face mandatory retirement when he turns 75 in July 2016, before his five-year term as chief expires. He said he has made no decision whether he will retire before he reaches mandatory retirement age.

“It’s very well-deserved and not something that I would think of as a gold watch or a  lifetime achievement award,” Massa said in recommending Dickson, who he called a consensus builder and thought leader. “Justice Dickson would be a marvelous choice.”

Massa and others said Dickson also possessed the “small ‘P’ political skills” needed to be the public face of the court and represent the judiciary in the legislature.

“As far as the immediate decision, what I would look for if I were you,” David told the commission, then leaned and stared across the table at Dickson, who chairs the panel. He called Dickson “the right fit.”

Rucker said the chief justice also acts as a chairman of the board of the state’s judiciary. He said the courts face budgetary challenges, assaults on judicial independence and questions of access to justice for those most in need.

Rucker said “with upheaval in our ranks … maybe more upheaval to come,” that Dickson “has been that steady hand, that visionary, if you will, who has done a magnificent job.”

Dickson said that continuity is important amid change. “I’d like to keep things moving as they have been,” he said.  

Dickson’s appointment is effective immediately.


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  1. This is ridiculous. Most JDs not practicing law don't know squat to justify calling themselves a lawyer. Maybe they should try visiting the inside of a courtroom before they go around calling themselves lawyers. This kind of promotional BS just increases the volume of people with JDs that are underqualified thereby dragging all the rest of us down likewise.

  2. I think it is safe to say that those Hoosier's with the most confidence in the Indiana judicial system are those Hoosier's who have never had the displeasure of dealing with the Hoosier court system.

  3. 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

  4. 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?)

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