Justice interviews begin

July 30, 2010
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From IL reporter Michael Hoskins:

Commission members began arriving about 8 a.m.

Once the interviews began, the chief justice welcomed and congratulated each person and then led off with the two-part question that had been sent to each semi-finalist earlier in the week.

JUDGE STEVEN DAVID: He began by asking “Is the rumor true? That I can reserve five minutes for rebuttal at the end?” Garnering a laugh by commission members, the chief justice said, “No, it’s not.” Judge David talked about being first in his family to go to law school

Judge David said the biggest challenge is how the state judiciary stays efficient and relevant without much money, and he said more centralized operation and coordination between the 92 counties must be explored. The court must be as open and transparent as possible in order to make sure litigants have adequate access to justice. The judge noted he wasn’t afraid of cameras in the court.

Commission member Keck asked how a judge should factor political, social, and economic ramifications into their decision-making. The judge responded that he’d separate them all, but that it’s not unusual to factor economic and social impacts into some decisions. But not political impacts, he said.

“This may have lost me the nomination,” he said, “but as a judge, I don’t blog. I don’t Facebook. I don’t want to read what people are saying, though I respect what they’re saying and will defend that right to the death. I make decisions that people have appealed and haven’t been happy about. But they respect the process and my decision enough. I’m fascinated by politics, but that doesn’t have any place in being a judge.”

TOM FISHER: Fisher said his greatest professional accomplishment was being able to argue three cases before the Supreme Court of the United States, two of which he’s won. The most significant was the voter ID decision.

Advocating against and defending lower court decisions is a significant accomplishment in itself, but being successful at the SCOTUS “adds another dimension to my practice.”

As far as changes to the judiciary, Fisher said e-filing was one example that he thought of, a concept that he’d like to see mirror PACER in some ways. Already, JTAC is implementing a statewide case management system and the state has recently started seeking feedback for an appellate system with e-filing being a major aspect. Another area might be for the state judiciary to examine procedural rules about how they mesh with the federal system. There might be an opportunity for Indiana to be proactive on evidentiary rules, and even lead the nation on this. The final area he discussed was addressing how we handle transfer petitions, particularly reviewing the briefing process so that more might be allowed in some cases. Under current system, the Court of Appeals is best place for an amicus party to get involved rather than file a brief on the transfer request.
 
JUDGE CYNTHIA EMKES: Judge Emkes said her biggest accomplishment is in assisting the judiciary in expanding its knowledge of death penalty cases. “It’s been so satisfying to be a part of that, to attend and teach at conferences where judges seem so much more comfortable after those conferences because of what they’ve learned.”

Regarding the two areas of change the commission members asked candidates to consider, Judge Emkes said she’d to see the high court work to expand problem-solving courts. Right now, re-entry and drug and community courts are great and beneficial, but there aren’t many in the civil arena, she said. She researched about 20 other states that have done this with business courts. Indiana’s courts are backlogged, and it can take a very long time to get cases heard in court and that hurts businesses. Some states have used law schools to help do this, she noted.

Secondly, she’d like to see the Supreme Court give guidance to the lower courts on how to better combat recidivism. Trial judges really haven’t embraced that, she said, and given focus to sentencing and recidivism that they could. Trial court judges need guidance from the Supreme Court, and the judiciary needs to embrace these best practices as soon as possible.

Judge Emkes was asked about the rate of reversals she’s seen from higher appellate courts on her cases – roughly a third. She responded that sentencing disparities are a tough issue to address. The state statutes are good and comparable to other states, but each community is different and judges face many factors in deciding what is an appropriate sentence. She said the toughest ethical issue she faces as a judge is campaign contributions in running for the bench, because any candidate and judge must be careful about what money they can take from attorneys and potential litigants who might appear before them in court.

NEXT UP: Boshkoff, Mulvaney and Steele…

 

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