Dickson values continuity for court

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Indiana’s new chief justice will preside over a Supreme Court facing a transition that could test the stability and civility that have been its hallmarks for more than two decades.

Brent E. Dickson’s ascension to chief justice from acting chief was affirmed May 15 by the Judicial Nominating Commission. Dickson, a 26-year justice, replaces Randall Shepard, whose 25-year term as chief justice had been the nation’s longest.

The change in leadership accompanies the pending retirement of one, and perhaps two, longtime justices and unprecedented change in the court’s makeup.

DicksonBrent Dickson became chief justice May 15. He will face mandatory retirement before his term ends.

Mark Massa was appointed in March to replace Shepard. Two years prior, Steven David was named to the court to replace 14-year justice Theodore Boehm. Justice Frank Sullivan Jr., who’s been on the court nearly 19 years, announced he will retire this summer. The court’s remaining veteran, Justice Robert D. Rucker, indicated he’s undecided whether he will run for retention in November after 13 years on the Supreme Court.

Rucker joined David and Massa in endorsing Dickson to serve as chief justice. But Rucker also hinted at his uncertainty about staying on the bench in his comments to the commission.

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

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

Should Rucker step aside, David would be the senior justice when Dickson retires.

Judicial appointment expert Charles Geyh, associate dean for research and John F. Kimberling Professor of Law at Indiana University Maurer School of Law, said Dickson’s leadership will be critical.

“I think that this is a somewhat precarious time in the history of the state Supreme Court in the limited sense that Chief Justice Shepard had a long and stable tenure,” Geyh said.

Shepard left the court in good health and one of the most respected judiciaries in the country, Geyh said, and he expects Dickson to maintain a steady course.

Dickson said as much during his appearance before the Judicial Nominating Commission.

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

“I’d like to keep things moving as they have been,” Dickson said after his selection. “Our employees needed to know civility was going to reign.” He said he hadn’t planned to run, but a growing number of voices persuaded him.

Dickson has written and spoken often on the importance of fostering civility among attorneys, and when he spoke to the commission, it was the trait he said was most important in a chief.

“No. 1 is collegial behavior and judicial temperament,” he said. He stressed the importance of justices being agreeable when they disagree, and he said the justices maintained an open-door environment in which colleagues might encourage one another to moderate the tone of a particularly harsh draft.

Scathing dissents can “have a subtle effect on how (justices) interact with each other,” he said.

Geyh said that with four or fewer years as chief, Dickson is unlikely to leave an imprint on the court that can be measured against Shepard’s quarter-century.

“In the larger scheme of things, I think this is a sensible pick that isn’t going to create a ripple effect,” Geyh said. “The wait-and-see moment is who comes on the court next.

“The complexion of the court will change in some fairly significant ways, and that will affect how they do business,” he said. One of those ways could be a shift from the court’s traditionally apolitical approach to doing business.

The transition, Geyh said, “is coming as more and more courts are under siege from political detractors. … Efforts to politicize the judiciary are more common. Judge Shepard had steadfastly resisted those.”

Geyh said that if a justice or future justice politicizes the court, it could be counterproductive and damage the court’s esteem, which maintained a relatively low profile under Shepard.

Charles GeyhGeyh

“The court hasn’t been in the crosshairs of political fights that have gotten (state supreme courts) in trouble in other states,” Geyh said. With another chief justice selection no more than four years off, those who will be frontrunners are those who build comity on the bench and inspire confidence in their fellow justices, he added.

“In many ways the judges who may well be interested in a chief justice position, if they are, the irony or the paradox is they can’t do the kinds of things politicians do to get a successful outcome for themselves,” he said.

The court could be composed of five Republican appointees if Rucker retires. He and Sullivan are the only Democratic appointees, and Gov. Mitch Daniels will appoint his third justice to fill Sullivan’s vacancy, and possibly a fourth if Rucker leaves.

But Geyh said one-party dominance is not necessarily a worrisome scenario. “To me, it depends on whether the participants in the process remain committed to the goals of a merit-selection system.

“Daniels has shown himself to be someone who is committed to that system,” he said. “It’s always an open question as to whether the next governor will see it the same way.”

During the chief justice selection process, Dickson’s colleagues offered their views of the qualities of a chief, and each praised Dickson’s leadership as he chaired the nominating commission as acting chief.

“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.

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 with a sly smile across the table at Dickson. He called Dickson “the right fit.”

Rucker said the chief justice also acts as a chairman of the board of the state’s judiciary, and Dickson was ideally suited to do so.

Daniels praised Dickson’s selection.

“To me, the commission made the right and natural choice. Brent Dickson is universally respected and has earned the complete trust of his colleagues and lawyers statewide. Any other selection would have been a surprise.”•


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  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.