Former Indiana Supreme Court chief justice dies

Jennifer Nelson
July 22, 2009
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A Former Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice who was known for his colloquialisms and quick wit died Tuesday morning at his home.

Justice Richard Givan, 88, was remembered by former colleagues for his quick wit, storytelling ability, and mentoring. Many also referred to his "Givanisms," sayings such as, "You pile on too many apples, you can't shove the cart."

Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard, who served with the former justice from 1985 to 1994 and described him as an energetic judge and friend, said Justice Givan would often say, "When the automobile was invented my father's buggy worked just fine, but he bought a car anyway."

Justice Brent Dickson, who joined the Supreme Court in 1986, remembered one of his favoring sayings: "This is like a one-car traffic jam." The "Givanisms" were so popular that those who went to his retirement dinner in January 1995 found Justice Givan's favorite sayings printed out for them to take home.

At his retirement ceremony, he joked about being replaced by former Justice Myra Selby, the first woman to serve on the Indiana Supreme Court.

"I have a lot of faith in women. After all, I live in a sorority house," he said, referring to his wife and four daughters. In fact, he would tell his wife and daughters that he had to come to the office to make decisions once in a while.

The Indianapolis native was elected to the Supreme Court in 1968 and served until his retirement in December 1994; he was the chief justice from November 1974 to March 1987. He authored more than 1,500 majority opinions, dissented in more than 400 cases, and heard nearly 6,000 cases while on the bench.

Justice Dickson described Justice Givan as a model for dealing with the apparent conflict between personal beliefs and judicial duties. As a Quaker, Justice Givan advocated for the repeal of the death penalty statute in Indiana while he was in the legislature, but once he became a judge, he authored many opinions affirming death sentences by trial courts.

"He explained that his obligation under his oath of judicial office to uphold the laws of the State of Indiana prevailed over his personal, moral, and religious beliefs," Justice Dickson said in a statement. "After he retired from the court, Dick Givan resumed his opposition to the death penalty and even testified against it before a legislative committee."

The former chief justice was also a great storyteller, and often a brief or an opinion would remind him of a story with a lesson about how to deal with a client or how to handle a difficult courtroom situation, said Lafayette attorney Jerome L. Withered, who served as a law clerk to Justice Givan in the 1970s. He said the former justice never had trouble making decisions, despite his jokes with his family. The justice compared his role as judge to that of an umpire: Call the balls and strikes as you see them no matter who the players or teams are.

"It was not easy to predict his rulings," he said.

Justice Givan served as a pilot in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II and later was a flight instructor with the Air Corps Reservists. He received his LL.B. from Indiana University in 1951, where he worked as assistant librarian and research assistant to the Indiana Supreme Court. He was admitted to the bar in 1952 and was a fourth-generation lawyer.

Before joining the high court, Justice Givan served as an assistant attorney general, a Marion County deputy prosecutor, worked in private practice, and was a state representative in the 1967 session.

He is survived by his brother William C. Givan; daughters Madalyn Hesson, Sandy Chenoweth, Patty Smith, and Libby Whipple; 14 grandchildren; and 15 great-grandchildren.

The calling will be from 4 to 8 p.m. July 27 at Hall-Baker Funeral Home, 339 E. Main St., Plainfield. The funeral will be at 11 a.m. July 28 at the Fairfield Friends Church, 7040 S. County Road 1050 East, Camby.

Memorial contributions may be sent to Fairfield Friends Meeting General or Building Fund, or to the Hendricks County Community Foundation, 5055 E. Main St., Suite A., Avon, IN 46123, where the Givan Legacy Fund has been established to fund grants for projects that give back to the community.


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  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. rensselaer imdiana is doing same thing to children from the judge to attorney and dfs staff they need to be investigated as well

  5. Sex offenders are victims twice, once when they are molested as kids, and again when they repeat the behavior, you never see money spent on helping them do you. That's why this circle continues