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Distribution of judicial decisions still evolving

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Nestled on a top shelf in the Indiana Supreme Court’s law library, the book doesn’t stand out, and one might not look at it any differently than the others nearby.

But that book is different, in that it recognizes a notable moment in Hoosier legal history when the state shifted how it published appellate court decisions and paved the way for what’s in place today.

That old legal book symbolizes the closing of a chapter in the mid-1980s that may seem like ancient history to some. Look closely, and it provides a lesson about where we’ve come from and what may lie ahead concerning legal research and how rulings from the state’s highest courts are published.

“Our history on how we’ve had print bound volumes and how we’ve done legal research is very interesting, historically and for today,” Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard said.

The first reports

What began in the early 1800s paved the way to where we are today, beginning with one of the state’s founding Supreme Court justices penning his published books on judicial decisions and later motivating legislators to create a new office that would handle that task. Justice Isaac Blackford published the first of his eight bound volumes in 1830, and they immediately became a hot commodity, according to Chief Justice Shepard.

“Blackford was one of the first anywhere to do this, and his reports were well-known throughout this country,” the chief justice said. “I’ve found reviews in New York legal newspapers from the 1830s and 40s saying they were some of the best around, and they were valued in Britain and other places. There was such a thirst for this printed law at a time when there weren’t even very many newspapers, and that’s how we got started.”

But because then-Justice Blackford was so successful and earned money selling those reports, the Legislature during its constitutional convention in 1851 took away a judge’s ability to compile those reports and created the Indiana Court Reporter’s office to handle the job of publishing and distributing appellate decisions. The office took on the intermediate appellate court when it was established later that century.


marilouwertzler-15col Marilou Wertzler (left) at her second inauguration as Indiana reporter for the courts, a position she served from 1968 to 1985. Her son, John, holds the Bible as then-Gov. Otis Bowen administers the oath of office. (Photo submitted)

This was before any bound volume of court opinions was available for research, and it caused the official Indiana Reports to be published. It called for publication of appellate court decisions, and stated that no jurist would be able to do that as Justice Blackford had done. The section noted that lawmakers couldn’t require judges to write syllabi of their written decisions, and it didn’t prohibit entities other than the state from creating that publication.

In 1887, that’s exactly what happened. West Publishing Co. created the National Reporter System and began cataloging reported cases from across the country. Indiana was tossed into the Northeastern Reporter, which also includes Illinois, Massachusetts, Ohio, and New York. The key cite system was developed and, during the next century, the reporter’s office that Indiana’s General Assembly had created gradually became obsolete.

After 132 years in operation, the reporter’s office was abolished in the early 1980s. Longtime Republican and female political pioneer Marilou Wertzler became the last person to hold that position, a job she’d been elected to in 1968. She served 16 years before the General Assembly determined it was a superfluous position since the reports the office issued became available months after cases were available through West Publishing.

Indianapolis appellate attorney Karl Mulvaney, who worked as the assistant court administrator for six years before becoming administrator in 1984, recalls working with and seeing Wertzler arrive each day for work.

“She was a hard worker but had a very small staff, and it was not surprising that her office could not keep up in publishing the volumes,” he said. “My recollection is that discussion about the topic of sunsetting the reporter’s office was something that went on between members of the General Assembly and the court when it became evident that the decisions were a number of years behind in being published, and because it was clear that West Publishing did such a good job getting opinions out. I believe Marilou Wertzler was consulted before there was a decision to sunset her office.”

Public Law 4-1983, approved in April 1983, abolished the reporter’s office, which had been dictated by provisions of Indiana Code 33-15. Then-Chief Justice Richard Givan signed an order in January 1985 making WestLaw’s Indiana Cases the official publisher and distributor of the state’s judicial decisions.

Though he came onto the Supreme Court later that year as a new justice after that had all transpired, Chief Justice Shepard recalls from the “accepted wisdom I inherited” that the state just didn’t see any reason to continue paying to publish the reports when a commercial outfit was already doing it.

“There was really no advantage of the bench or bar to continue paying for something superfluous, because we’d all be able to still get the opinions,” he said.

Now, except for institutional knowledge about Wertzler, little evidence exists of that position except for what is found in law libraries. Her name remains on the covers of those now-defunct Indiana Reports, the last including a title page announcing it was the final volume and giving a brief history before listing all 24 people who’d held that position.

Though that office was dissolved and West took on what the reporter had previously been doing, the appellate clerk and administrator’s office has essentially evolved into the office responsible for administering former reporter tasks on the state’s side. For years, the clerk’s office supplied WestLaw with the published decisions to catalogue and distribute, but now the publisher mines the state sites and does that electronically to include in the Northeast Reporter, according to Clerk Kevin Smith, who now serves in a position that has become non-elective.

After Wertzler’s position was abolished, her son said she moved to California to be near family and that’s where she remained until she died at age 89 in Palo Alto. Her son, John Wertzler, recalls how his mother sat with then-Gov. Robert Orr in 1984 as he signed the legislation eliminating that office, writing on the photo, “Au revoir, Marilou, (those dogs!!). - Bob”

“The ‘dogs’ reference is targeting at the Legislature that passed the law sunsetting the office,” John said. “She loved that job, but understood the practical and political reasons and knew the office was passed its prime.”

A continuing evolution

Aside from the practical considerations of reducing redundancies and the symbolic nature of eliminating such a historic office, those around at the time say not much changed for the legal community because WestLaw kept doing what it had been doing – publishing Indiana Cases. Chief Justice Shepard recalls how he’s observed the shift from traditional legal books and law library materials during his time on the court.

“One sign that the worm has turned since I’ve been chief justice is when the state moved its warehouse and we had hundreds of cartons of Indiana Reports that would have had to be moved,” he said. “I asked our administrator in the early 1990s if there’d be any interest among lawyers to receive a free set, and we placed an ad in Res Gestae about it… My recollection is that we didn’t get a single taker. Even by then, the e-versions had become more commonly used and there wasn’t anyone willing to add these to their law libraries.”

Justice Frank Sullivan recently heard on a visit to the West Publishing facility in Minnesota what many suspected, that the number of print subscriptions has dropped dramatically through the years. Advance sheets have also been declining in popularity in recent years, the chief justice noted, as more attorneys and judges are able to immediately find opinions and orders online.

Law Librarian Terri Ross says it takes about six weeks to receive those advance sheets and four months until the bound volumes come out. The courts or West has immediate access online for free or a subscription price.

Many practitioners say staying current on the law is easier now with instant access, even though the volume of law hasn’t slowed down and it still takes time to read and understand the content and context. But what that means for the future of judicial decision publication isn’t clear, and it leads the chief justice to think even more change might be coming before long.

“The online opinions or e-versions are what’s first in the hands of the lawyers, by far,” Chief Justice Shepard said. “That has changed the way West is printing the bound volumes, and while we still have them, some have begun to wonder how long that will last.”•

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  1. Am I the only one who sees that the City is essentially giving away the MSA site AND giving millions to build new buildings on the site when this site would be the perfect place for the Justice Complex? Across from City-County, check; keeping it centrally located, check, etc. It's my understanding that the GM site must be purchased by the City from Motors Liquidation Company. STOP WASTING WHAT WE ALREADY HAVE AND OUR TAX DOLLARS! The Ballard Administration has not been known for it's common sense...never voted for him and never will!

  2. This guy sounds like the classic molester/manipulator.

  3. Louis D. Brandeis was born in 1856. At 9 years of age it would have been 1865. The Brandeis family did not own slaves. My source Louis D. Brandeis: A Life, by Melvin L. Urofsky.

  4. My name is Matthew Lucas Major, I recently went through a jury trial in Bloomington , In. It was the week of Feb 19-21. Although I have been incarcerated since August 5, 2014. The reason I 'am writing to you sir is on the 21 of February the jury came in with a very excessive and wrongful verdict of guilty on 6 child molesting charges against my daughter who was 9 at the time I was accused. I also had 2 other Felonies one of Intimidation and 1 of Sexual Vicarious Gratification. Judge Marc Kellam on the second day of trial gave me a not guilty on those 2 felonies. The jury was sent out during that time and when brought back Judge Kellam told them to not concern themselves with the 2 Felonies that he ruled on them. They were told to not let evidence they had already heard influence there verdicts. I never in my life touched any child sexually and definitely not with my own daughter. When I was arrested Detective Shawn Karr told me I would be convicted guilty just on my daughters word even without evidence. That's just what happened. my public defender did me so wrong he never once proved to the court and jury all the lies the child told, and Jeremy Noel my public defender could of proven the lies easily. The stories in Serenity's depositions and Forensic interview changed and were not consistent as Prosecutor Darcie Fawcett claimed they were. Yet my attorney never mentioned that. The facts that the child accused me of full penetration in her vagina and rectum was proven lies. Doctor Roberta Hibbard of Riley hospital in Indianapolis confirmed Serenity's hymen intact, no scars, no tearing, no signs of rape to her. Yet my attorney didn't use that knowledge . the DNA was all in my favor. I tell you I will spend my entire life in prison going through rape and beatings etc. even Judge Kellam abused his authority by telling the jurors to listen and believe what the prosecutors side in evidence like my daughters testimony. In one interview with the detectives my daughter got flustered with her mom and said on camera " I'm saying what you told me to mom"!! Yet Mr. Noel said nor did anything to even resemble a defense attorney. Judge Kellam allowed edited version of a taped conversation between the child and her mother. Also Judge Kellam allowed the Prosecutor too bring in to my case a knife found under my seat, the knife wasn't part of my case. She was allowed by my attorney and the judge to put a huge picture of it on the screen and huge picture of my naked privates in a full courtroom and open court. Ms. Fawcett says to jury see how easy Mr. Major could reach the knife and cut his Childs throat. Even though I had no weapons charge against these cases. This gave the jurors prejudice thought against me thinking I threatened her with that knife and how scared she would of been knowing i could get it and kill her. On my sentencing court March 19, 2014 my public defender told Judge Kellam he wish to resign from being my attorney and wished for the court to give me outside council to file a error to trial or appeal. We were denied. Now after openly knowing my public defender don't want to represent me he has to. Well when as parents we make our kids clean a room when they really don't wish to, well the child will but don't mean she will do a good job, that's where I'm at with Mr. Noel. please dont ignore mine and my families pleas for your help . we have all the legal proof you could need to prove Im innocent. Please dont make my spend years in prison innocent when you can fix this wrong. Im not saying Im a perfect man or that I was a perfect dad to my 2 children none of us are. Ive made some bad choices in life and I paid for them. But I didnt ever touch or rape my daughter . I love my children with all my heart. And now through needing attention and a ex-wife who told my granny several times she wish she could put me in prison to get me out of their lives. Well my ex finally accomplished her goal. Sad part is she is destroying our daughter with all this horrific lies and things she taught my daughter to say. My daughter will need therapist to ever hope for a chance of a normal life after what she had done to her by her mom and their side of the family. My daughter told everyone even on stand she had a dream months before i supposedly molested her in this dream I was molesting her and when I finally did it matched her dream perfectly. She admitted to watching movies about little girls being molested and watching U-Tube videos about child molesting all before it happened supposedly to her. Doesn't that sound very unusual that a non molested 9 yr old would need to know so much about being molested? The only reason I could think a 9 year old would need so much information is to be prepared to know what to say and be able to say how it felt what took place etc.. So when questioned by authorities she would be prepared. And there again sir if a parent is pre grooming a 9 year old child she would need intimate details . Like telling her daughter about a couple moles on my private area. The child admitted to sneaking my cell and looking many many times at nudes of me and my girlfriend even one where my penis was entering my girlfriends vagina. In that picture my moles are obvious. Yet when prosecutor showed everyone in court my privates and pictures of the moles she said the only way the child would know about them is if she saw them for herself. My attorney once again said nothing about the pictures my child saw. Or could a ex-wife be able to describe my moles to help her case against getting rid of me? I beg you help me. This is my very existence. Ive lost everything , a good job, a wonderful girlfriend, my freedom, but worse thing Ive lost is my children. They were my reason to get up every morning and strive to be better. The wonderful bond I had with my Serenity is gone. After this I would be afraid to even hug her for fear of what next can they do to me. I'm not afraid to tell you I sit here in this cell and try to hold back my tears. Everyone knows you cant show weakness in prison. My life has already been threatened here at Wabash Valley Prison. After only 3 days of arrival. I was tricked into signing a waiver now Im in G Block General Population with 6 child molesting felony charges. Mrs. Hart as a 18 year old I almost died hooked to machines in hospital almost 1 month and now I know that fear was childish compared to this . I cant help but put emotions in this, after all Mrs. Hart Im human and God help Me I never been more afraid in my life. I didnt hurt my little girl I didnt touch her sexually. As much as it shreds me and fills my mind what Im facing I worry more about my mom and granny because of their great love for me mam they are suffering so deeply. I aint done this things but my loved ones suffering right along beside me and If you take my case you will be in essence freeing them also. I sent momma this letter and asked her to email it to you. I'm scared I have been done so unjustly by our legal system and I need you to fix this and give me freedom. I ask you please don't just ignore my pleas. Here in America its nice to be able to trust our legal justice system, well they destroyed my and my loved ones trust in our justice system . And I'm trusting in You !!! My entire family is suffering this nightmare with me. My 77 year old granny had a stroke and isn't doing so well. My single mother that raised 3 kids alone is dying from Lupus and since my arrest has stayed so sick and weary. Our lives torn to peices by a government I was taught I could trust in. my momma has tried so many innocent project and wrongfully accused and cant get anywhere. please please help me. A quote from the late Nelson Mandela: To be free is not merely to cast off ones chains, But to live in a way that respects and enhances The Freedom Of Others. I have Faith in you and your clinic to cast my chains off and give me freedom I do deserve as a wrongfully accused Man, son, brother, father, friend. Matthew Major DOC# 246179 Cause # : 53c02-1308-FA-000779 God Bless you. Please contact me with your decision so I know you made a life changing decision for me , just please at least write me so I know you care enough about your citizens to respond to cries for your help. You can speak openly with my mother Charlotte Spain (828) 476-0406: 71 Lakeview Dr. Canton, NC 28716 Thank You Matthew Major I know yall get thousands of request and inmates claiming innocence, and each person who are innocent deserve to have organizations like yours willing to fight for them and I give yall so much Thanks and I thank God everyday yall are out there caring enough to help free the innocents. Since discovering firsthand how easily lives and families can be destroyed by Poor Defense attorneys not doing their job . And Prosecutors allowed to do as they please in court

  5. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

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