First interviews done for COA opening

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2007
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They came to the capitol building in Indianapolis from across the state, facing a barrage of questions about why they want to be an appellate court judge.

Seven will return for a second round next month.

The Judicial Nominating Commission conducted its first round of interviews Tuesday for a seat on the state's second highest appeals court, an opening that will be created by Judge John T. Sharpnack's retirement in May 2008.

The seven semi-finalists, selected after the daylong session of interviews and closed-door deliberations lasting about an hour, are Dubois Superior Judge Elaine B. Brown, Morgan Superior Judge Jane Spencer Craney, Wayne Superior Judge P. Thomas Snow, Dearborn Superior Judge G. Michael Witte, Sen. Brent E. Steele of Bedford firm Steele & Steele, Leslie C. Shively of Shively & Associates in Evansville, and Stephen J. Johnson, executive director of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council.

Those who didn't make the first cut included Greenwood attorney William Barrett, Morgan Superior Judge Christopher Burnham, Henry County Prosecutor Kit C. Dean Crane, New Albany attorney Richard Fox, Vincennes attorney Jeffrey Kolb, Boone Superior Judge Rebecca McClure, Vanderburgh County deputy prosecutor Daniel Miller, and Mitchell attorney William Mullis.

"We have one of the best fields of candidates I can remember," Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard, who chairs the commission, said after the interviews. "We just don't have enough room for them all."

During interviews, commissioners asked typical questions, including why they want to be on the court, how applicants thought their background would influence or complement their work on the court, what particular areas of law they might like to see addressed, and their views about balancing quantity and quality in a time of increasing caseloads. Commissioners focused on specific points of interviewees' backgrounds, such as cases they've handled to their particular interests inside and outside the law.

Three applicants - Dean, Mullis, and Judge Burnham spent time in their interviews talking about their military experience and how it compliments their legal experience and would do the same if they were selected for the appellate seat.

Judge Burnham also spoke about his interest in technology and involvement with the Judicial Technology and Automation Committee since its inception. He went up against one of his local colleagues, Judge Craney, who he had also worked under years ago - she was Morgan County Prosecutor and he was a deputy prosecutor during the 1980s.

Boone Superior Judge Rebecca S. McClure told the commission about three cases she felt were important and demonstrated her analytical skills. One dealt with home-schooled students who wanted to take one course at a local school. Another was a case involving golf carts being classified as motor vehicles, and the third - which she couldn't say much about because it's ongoing - involves former Indianapolis Colts quarterback Jack Trudeau, who is charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor and aiding, inducing, or causing illegal possession or consumption of alcohol by a minor. All three cases present issues of first impression in Indiana, she said.

Judge Witte from Dearborn County sees the role of an appellate judge evolving from its traditional functions, noting that a jurist must be more of a leader in the judicial branch these days rather than just issuing decisions.

When Wayne Superior Judge Snow was interviewing, Chief Justice Shepard noted how he was impressed with what people said about the judge in how well he treats lawyers and litigants, and the chief justice described that as assuring.

Later, the chief justice also said he was impressed with the connection Johnson has with the different branches of the government and the legal community as the head of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council.

Dubois Superior Judge Brown told commissioners she brought a unique perspective to the applicant field. She's been a judge for 15 years but is only 3 ½ years removed from active law practice because her judicial terms have not been concurrent. That has given her insight into both sides of the bench and helps her see firsthand how settlements, expedited hearings, jurist approachability, and overall court efficiency really help the practicing bar.

Judge Brown, who was assigned to preside over a Clark County case involving judicial mandates, said she hopes the appellate opportunity could help her become a "true student of the law."

Trial judges, prosecutors, and trial lawyers all want one of their own on the appellate court, according to one of the commissioners, who asked applicants what they thought about that sentiment and who they think is the best to serve on the court.

"You shouldn't be looking for someone to fit in one of those categories," Judge McClure said. "You want a person who will work hard and loves the law, and will represent the masses."

Now that the seven-member commission has selected semi-finalists, those chosen will return for second interviews scheduled for Dec. 12. Before that second round, the commission will decide a question for applicants to consider and focus their answers on.

Three finalists' names will be given to Gov. Mitch Daniels to make the final decision, which by law must happen within 60 days of receiving the commission's nominations.

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  1. I think the cops are doing a great job locking up criminals. The Murder rates in the inner cities are skyrocketing and you think that too any people are being incarcerated. Maybe we need to lock up more of them. We have the ACLU, BLM, NAACP, Civil right Division of the DOJ, the innocent Project etc. We have court system with an appeal process that can go on for years, with attorneys supplied by the government. I'm confused as to how that translates into the idea that the defendants are not being represented properly. Maybe the attorneys need to do more Pro-Bono work

  2. We do not have 10% of our population (which would mean about 32 million) incarcerated. It's closer to 2%.

  3. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  4. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  5. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.