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. Especially I would like to see all the republican voting patriotic good ole boys to stop and understand that the wars they have been volunteering for all along (especially the past decade at least) have not been for God & Jesus etc no far from it unless you think George Washington's face on the US dollar is god (and we know many do). When I saw the movie about Chris Kyle, I thought wow how many Hoosiers are just like this guy, out there taking orders to do the nasty on the designated bad guys, sometimes bleeding and dying, sometimes just serving and coming home to defend a system that really just views them as reliable cannon fodder. Maybe if the Christians of the red states would stop volunteering for the imperial legions and begin collecting welfare instead of working their butts off, there would be a change in attitude from the haughty professorial overlords that tell us when democracy is allowed and when it isn't. To come home from guarding the borders of the sandbox just to hear if they want the government to protect this country's borders then they are racists and bigots. Well maybe the professorial overlords should gird their own loins for war and fight their own battles in the sandbox. We can see what kind of system this really is from lawsuits like this and we can understand who it really serves. NOT US.... I mean what are all you Hoosiers waving the flag for, the right of the president to start wars of aggression to benefit the Saudis, the right of gay marriage, the right for illegal immigrants to invade our country, and the right of the ACLU to sue over displays of Baby Jesus? The right of the 1 percenters to get richer, the right of zombie banks to use taxpayer money to stay out of bankruptcy? The right of Congress to start a pissing match that could end in WWIII in Ukraine? None of that crud benefits us. We should be like the Amish. You don't have to go far from this farcical lawsuit to find the wise ones, they're in the buggies in the streets not far away....

  2. Moreover, we all know that the well heeled ACLU has a litigation strategy of outspending their adversaries. And, with the help of the legal system well trained in secularism, on top of the genuinely and admittedly secular 1st amendment, they have the strategic high ground. Maybe Christians should begin like the Amish to withdraw their services from the state and the public and become themselves a "people who shall dwell alone" and foster their own kind and let the other individuals and money interests fight it out endlessly in court. I mean, if "the people" don't see how little the state serves their interests, putting Mammon first at nearly every turn, then maybe it is time they wake up and smell the coffee. Maybe all the displays of religiosity by American poohbahs on down the decades have been a mask of piety that concealed their own materialistic inclinations. I know a lot of patriotic Christians don't like that notion but I entertain it more and more all the time.

  3. If I were a judge (and I am not just a humble citizen) I would be inclined to make a finding that there was no real controversy and dismiss them. Do we allow a lawsuit every time someone's feelings are hurt now? It's preposterous. The 1st amendment has become a sword in the hands of those who actually want to suppress religious liberty according to their own backers' conception of how it will serve their own private interests. The state has a duty of impartiality to all citizens to spend its judicial resources wisely and flush these idiotic suits over Nativity Scenes down the toilet where they belong... however as Christians we should welcome them as they are the very sort of persecution that separates the sheep from the wolves.

  4. What about the single mothers trying to protect their children from mentally abusive grandparents who hide who they truly are behind mounds and years of medication and have mentally abused their own children to the point of one being in jail and the other was on drugs. What about trying to keep those children from being subjected to the same abuse they were as a child? I can understand in the instance about the parent losing their right and the grandparent having raised the child previously! But not all circumstances grant this being OKAY! some of us parents are trying to protect our children and yes it is our God given right to make those decisions for our children as adults!! This is not just black and white and I will fight every ounce of this to get denied

  5. Mr Smith the theory of Christian persecution in Indiana has been run by the Indiana Supreme Court and soundly rejected there is no such thing according to those who rule over us. it is a thought crime to think otherwise.