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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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  1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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