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Editorial: Don't keep quiet, join a healthy debate

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Indiana Lawyer Editorial

We know you have opinions – thoughtful, reasonable ones that would make for great discourse in the newspaper. But getting you to share them is more difficult than we would like.

Let’s face it: In an age where just about anyone can shell out a few bucks and create a website or a blog and call themselves an author or a pundit, intelligence is becoming difficult to find.

Yet our ears perk up when someone insinuates that “you can’t write that” or “you can’t read that” because someone might get the wrong idea.

We appreciate the concern readers have expressed about a couple of recent columns – one of which appeared in this newspaper – by different lawyers who expressed opinions about what they thought should be the outcome of particular cases pending in Indiana appellate courts.

A reader called to share his concern with this newspaper about the practice in general and the column in particular – his concern that only one side was represented in the column, and that this one side may serve to inappropriately influence the court.

While the reader was clearly upset, the reader was pleasant and cordial while making his point, which is another thing we appreciate about lawyers and judges: most of you can disagree in an agreeable manner, which only helps in bridging differences of opinion.

As a result of that phone conversation, the newspaper has decided to place all the columns that clearly are “opinion” pieces on the Viewpoint pages, where they belong. We hope this move will avoid any confusion or misunderstanding on the part of readers who may not immediately recognize that a column that appears in the news pages is an opinion piece.

An enormous amount of work goes in to what you do on behalf of your clients, and we appreciate the zealous advocacy and the lengths you go to in order to present your clients’ case to the best of your ability. Those are admirable qualities and the kinds of traits we hold in high esteem.

We also hold the work that most of our judges do in equally high esteem. Some cases are clear, while others are more along the lines of what retired United States Supreme Court Justice David Souter recently said in his address at his alma matter, requiring a resolution of “conflict between the good and the good.”

Writing stories about pending cases makes up quite a bit of what we do around here on a daily basis, and we’re not likely to stop that anytime soon. Our news stories on such topics always contain as many sides of the case as we can manage, and we even note when one side has not returned calls seeking comment just so readers will know that we tried to get the missing pieces of the story.

Some call the practice of writing a column with an opinion on the outcome of a pending appellate case a supplemental amicus brief. One such lawyer is Jerry Garau of Garau Germano Hanley & Pennington, who told one of our reporters for a story in this issue of the newspaper “… it’s an improper use of those publications and goes outside the avenues that are appropriate to influence the court.” He has a case pending in the Indiana Supreme Court, and the case was written about last spring in another legal publication. “I realize there are judicial canons, but the bottom line is that judges are human and they receive these publications and read these articles … that plants the seed.”

Others believe such concerns demonstrate a lack of faith in our judges’ ability to weed out what they may and may not consider when deciding a case, and that prohibitions on discussion of pending cases are in opposition to basis freedoms.

“It’s a healthy debate to talk about pending cases, and that’s all protected by the First Amendment,” said Indiana appellate attorney George Patton, who works in the Washington, D.C., office of Bose McKinney & Evans.

So what do you think? We believe this is one of those healthy debates we’d like to hear more about from our readers. Let us hear from you.•

Opinions: Readers may offer opinions concerning Indiana Lawyer stories and other legal issues. Readers may respond immediately by viewing the “submissions” section on our website http://www.theindianalawyer.com. We reserve the right to edit letters for space requirements and to reproduce letters on Indiana Lawyer’s website and online databases. We do not publish anonymous letters. Direct letters to editor Rebecca Collier at rcollier@ibj.com or 41 E. Washington St., Suite 200, Indianapolis, IN 46204.




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