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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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