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Indiana chief justice delivers final address

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Standing in the same spot that he has annually for the past 25 years, Indiana Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard delivered his State of the Judiciary Jan. 11.

In many ways, the speech was the same as always, with his assessment of the judiciary’s accomplishments and challenges in the past year. But this year was more significant for the Hoosier legal community.

shepard Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, right, congratulates Indiana Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard before Shepard delivers his final State of the Judiciary on Jan. 11. (IBJ Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

This was the final address that Shepard would give as chief justice before his retirement in March. Judges and attorneys throughout Indiana paid closer attention this time, wondering what Shepard – the only chief justice a generation of lawyers has known – might say in his last State of the Judiciary.

The night before, Gov. Mitch Daniels gave his eighth and final State of the State address and thanked Shepard for what he described as “a quarter century of fairness, firmness and farsightedness.”

Giving a 27-minute speech that he titled “On the Way to Something Better,” the chief justice focused on the process of building a more unified and purposeful court system. He rattled off achievements that the court and legal community have experienced, and the list reflected not only the past 12 months, but many of the changes during Shepard’s tenure.

“The yesterday of Indiana’s courts lasted largely unchanged over decades. As in many other states, our courts were a collection of silos that rarely connected,” he said. “That began to change about a generation ago, and over time Indiana’s courts have become less like a collection of Lone Rangers and more like a group of colleagues with a common purpose.”

Shepard praised court reform efforts to unify state court jurisdictions and allow for more collaboration. He detailed court technology improvements that include a statewide case management system that in part gives women’s shelters direct access to the Protective Order Registry. Last year, 9,300 email or text messages about protective orders went out to domestic violence victims, and that’s just one of the many improvements Indiana’s embraced that he says is “literally saving lives.”

The chief justice cited family law and criminal justice examples to show how the state judiciary is better equipped to resolve disputes today than before. He said Indiana has more volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocates than ever, with the largest group of 1,010 volunteers being trained in 2011.

Shepard talked about court reform efforts and judicial opinions that have helped bolster Indiana’s national reputation. He said the Indiana Rules of Evidence and consistent caselaw have provided guidance for trial courts and lawyers, and that’s helped hold down litigation costs and improve access to the legal system overall. The chief justice also discussed Indiana State Bar Association efforts to create the first statewide lawyer-leadership academy with the help of Justice Steven David and said that through the Indiana Conference for Legal Education Opportunity, the state has doubled its number of minority attorneys. Shepard said the lawmakers and judges he’s worked with over time have been gracious, and that allows him to now “leave the stage with full confidence that we will succeed in building Indiana as a safe and prosperous and decent place.”

The chief justice’s address was emotional at times, as he mentioned his friendship with the governor and lieutenant governor and being able to lead a committee with former Gov. Joe Kernan that issued the Kernan-Shepard report on local government reform in 2007.

“Could there be a better cause, a more worthwhile way to ‘spend and be spent’ in life than working toward greater justice?” he said.

After a minute-long standing ovation, those who heard the speech praised Shepard.

Sen. Lindel Hume, D-Princeton, a 38-year legislator who has observed every State of the Judiciary going back to before Shepard’s time, said this chief justice changed his view on attending the annual speech.

“I used to just really hate coming to this, but once he became chief justice, it started being a real pleasure because it was certainly a different approach,” Hume said after the speech.

“That was probably good, because there is no question in my mind that he is the best chief justice the state of Indiana has ever had, and he is probably the best chief justice in the nation,” he said with a laugh.

Lawyer-legislator Rep. Ralph Foley, R-Martinsville, was emotional as he watched the address, noting that as a lawmaker or as a practicing civil attorney in Morgan County, he’s seen all of Shepard’s speeches. Both are nearing the ends of their terms and retiring this year from their public service posts. Shepard thanked Foley in the speech for his legislative work through the years.

“I have a lot of admiration and appreciation for the accessibility he’s offered through the years,” Foley said. “His dedication to improving the judiciary, the bar and all the areas he mentioned has been marvelous and I’ve really enjoyed seeing that evolve.”

Allen Circuit Judge Tom Felts described it as a special day being able to attend and receive a mention from the chief justice about his work launching a family mediation effort for divorces involving children, which is now being used in 33 counties. The trial judge has attended 14 prior speeches, but Felts said he told one of his judicial colleagues as Shepard entered the room what an honor it was to be at this historic, final address. Felts saw the mark of a true leader in Shepard, as he didn’t take direct credit for the judiciary’s accomplishments but highlighted the work of his colleagues – though Felts argues many were inspired and motivated by the chief justice.

“He’s a class act and will be very difficult to replace, and though he’ll be sorely missed, I’m happy he is able to go out on his own terms at a time of his own choosing,” Felts said. “Specifically, with his head held high in the satisfaction of a job well done.”•
 

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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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