Indiana chief justice's retirement 'a natural thing'

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Indiana Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard – the longest-serving state court chief justice in the nation – is retiring from the bench in March after nearly 27 years on the appellate bench and a quarter century in that top administrative position.

The chief justice announced Wednesday that he will leave the bench March 4, 2012.

Turning 65 on Christmas Eve, he said there was nothing specific that required him to retire at this time. His term as chief justice is set to expire in March, and the Judicial Nominating Commission is expected to begin discussing in the next month who should fill that administrative role. After joining the bench in September 1985, Shepard became chief justice in March 1987 and has been reappointed four times. He was last retained as a justice in 2008 and his term would have run through 2018.

Pointing to the court’s calendar and timing of the chief justice appointment as factors, Shepard said nothing specific pushed him to step down now but it’s something he’s weighed in years past with his family and this felt like the best time to leave.

“This is a natural thing … well, mostly natural when it’s secondary to serving out the full term,” he said. “As a family we’ve faced the question, ‘Is this something we still want to be committed to?' The answer has been yes, but we decided this year it’s time to let someone else take the lead.”

He hasn’t made any plans on what his future holds, but said there’s “a lot I’m interested in doing.” Those plans will likely come once he leaves the bench, he said. Until that time, Shepard will continue in the chief justice role and, among other things, will give his final State of the Judiciary address in January.

“This has been a wonderful place to spend a life, and I’ve made so many friends here,” he said.

Many court employees learned of the news earlier this week and at the Indiana Statehouse on Wednesday morning after the announcement, many were emotional. State leaders including Gov. Mitch Daniels and Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman offered their thoughts about the chief’s retirement, as well as Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller.

"I was privileged to have been present at the investiture of Chief Justice Shepard in 1985 and he has fulfilled his pledge to transform the Indiana Supreme Court into one that is nationally respected and whose legal insight and analysis serves to lead the development of the law,” Zoeller said in a statement. “His tenure will be highly rated in the history of our state.”

Authoring more than 900 opinions during his time on the court and 68 law review articles, Shepard has ushered in monumental changes in the state’s judiciary during the past quarter century. He’s directed changes that have strengthened capital case standards, made the Supreme Court a “cert court” where it has discretion over most appeals and opened up the appellate courts’ doors to cameras and online live broadcasts during oral arguments. Shepard also co-created the Indiana Conference for Legal Education Opportunity in 1997, and most recently in 2007, he co-chaired the Indiana Commission on Local Government Reform with former Gov. Joe Kernan that led to the “Kernan-Shepard Report” on streamlining government.

“To say the justice system is stronger today because of Chief Justice Shepard’s three decades of dedication would be an understatement,” National Center for State Courts president Mary McQueen said. “He defined ‘justice’ not only for the citizens of Indiana and the United States – Chief Justice Shepard defined ‘justice’ for our generation.”

Before being appointed by Gov. Robert Orr to the state’s highest court, the Evansville native and seventh generation Hoosier served as a Vanderburgh Superior judge for five years. He graduated from Yale Law School in 1972, and after serving briefly as special assistant to the Under Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation, he returned to Indiana and worked as chief assistant to Evansville’s mayor until he took the bench at age 33.

The Judicial Nominating Commission will be taking applications for his successor and conduct interviews in February, and the governor will choose from a submitted list of three names the person who will become Indiana’s 107th justice. Once Shepard retires, Justices Brent Dickson will serve as interim chief justice until the nominating commission chooses the next person.


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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