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Indiana courts to host judicial independence panel discussion

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The Indiana Supreme Court is hosting a panel discussion in mid-February to discuss the broad topic of judicial independence and how courts operate in our democracy, and it’s turning to the online and social media world to help shape how the event unfolds.

Adopting an American Bar Association Judicial Division project known as “The Least Understood Branch,” the program runs from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. on Feb. 15 and will be held at Martin University in Indianapolis.

This program is a direct result of efforts by Disciplinary Committee Executive Secretary G. Michael Witte, who chairs the ABA’s Judicial Division and has created and hosted these events nationally.

Indiana Supreme Court Justice Robert Rucker will talk about the state’s various judicial selection systems and also Supreme Court operations, while Marion Superior Judge David Dreyer will moderate a panel discussion on judicial independence that asks “Is it we the people, or we the courts?” Members of that panel include U.S. Judge Sarah Evans Barker from the Southern District of Indiana and Indiana University School of Law – Indianapolis professor John Hill, who teaches political and legal theory.

In honor of Black History Month, the program will include past Indiana State Bar Association president Rod Morgan, an attorney at Bingham McHale, who will discuss an Indianapolis African-American attorney named John Morton Finney who was admitted to the state bar in 1935 and practiced until age 105.

Attorneys can receive 1.5 CLE credits for attending this program, and those interested in that credit must reserve a seat by contacting Sarah Kidwell at skidwell@courts.state.in.us.

The Indiana courts are using Facebook and Twitter to spread the word and create discussion in advance in order to determine how the program itself might be conducted. Online visitors to the court’s event page can choose to “like” the event, but whether they do that or not they can find access to various program materials or a new music video featuring the courts. They can also ask questions and participate in discussions with others online.

This is another tool the Indiana courts have been using recently to interact through social media, which also includes more than 500 followers on Twitter from the media, law firms, and members of the public, court spokeswoman Kathryn Dolan said.

Based on what responses the court receives, the program could entail a range of issues such as how judges are chosen or the role of judicial pay and legislative oversight as it relates to the judiciary’s independence, she said.

“We’re not sure what to expect or what the interaction will be, but it could lead to some jumping off points for the discussion to focus on,” she said. “We’re looking to appeal to a larger audience, maybe students who might be interested and use social media to communicate. This Facebook event could be a way to introduce the judicial branch to a larger audience who might not normally be interested, but could be if they find out about it through a friend.”

Members of the public and the legal community can submit questions for the panel to consider that day as well as offer an opinion on the role of the courts or judicial independence through the event Facebook page.

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