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Judicial panel promotes civic education

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The Indiana Supreme Court hosted a panel discussion recently to discuss the broad topic of judicial independence, taking a lesson about how the courts operate to an Indianapolis college campus.

Adopting an American Bar Association Judicial Division project known as “The Least Understood Branch,” the event drew in more than 200 people Feb. 15 at Martin University. It was part of the court’s celebration of Black History Month. The program is a 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.

Responding to the rising number of attacks on the judicial branch by the executive and legislative branches and the public nationwide, Witte said he wanted to spend his year in that ABA role emphasizing civic education to make sure everyone understands what is at stake.

“The public sometimes forgets that the judicial branch has to follow the rule of law, rather than what’s popular opinion,” he said. “I think this all indicates why there should be a call for civic education in our nation’s schools, and also why the legal profession as a whole must rise to defend our fair and impartial judiciary and the rule of law.”

Marion Superior Judge David Dreyer moderated a panel discussion on judicial independence that asked “Is it we the people, or we the courts?” Members of that panel included U.S. Judge Sarah Evans Barker from the Southern District of Indiana, Indiana University School of Law – Indianapolis political and law professor John Hill, and IUPUI journalism professor Dan Drew, who has reported on the courts.

Beginning the discussion, Judge Dreyer asked the panelists about judicial selection and Hill responded that elections can be a “black hole” and discussed how Iowa can be viewed as an example of how judicial elections based on public opinion go against the whole point of the judiciary’s obligation to follow the law. In that state, the Supreme Court upheld same sex marriages, and voters in November tossed those jurists from the bench as a result of that unpopular opinion.

“You don’t write for the public, but you’re mindful of the confusion out there on an issue of the law,” Judge Barker said. “You write based on the law, but you don’t live in a vacuum and you don’t want to soapbox it.”

Indiana Supreme Court Justice Robert Rucker also spoke about the state’s various judicial selection systems and Supreme Court operations.

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

The Indiana courts used Facebook to publicize the program, and it posted photos and information after the event. The page can be found at http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Indianas-Least-Understood-Branch/181048511917643.•

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  1. The fee increase would be livable except for the 11% increase in spending at the Disciplinary Commission. The Commission should be focused on true public harm rather than going on witch hunts against lawyers who dare to criticize judges.

  2. Marijuana is safer than alcohol. AT the time the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act was enacted all major pharmaceutical companies in the US sold marijuana products. 11 Presidents of the US have smoked marijuana. Smoking it does not increase the likelihood that you will get lung cancer. There are numerous reports of canabis oil killing many kinds of incurable cancer. (See Rick Simpson's Oil on the internet or facebook).

  3. The US has 5% of the world's population and 25% of the world's prisoners. Far too many people are sentenced for far too many years in prison. Many of the federal prisoners are sentenced for marijuana violations. Marijuana is safer than alcohol.

  4. My daughter was married less than a week and her new hubbys picture was on tv for drugs and now I havent't seen my granddaughters since st patricks day. when my daughter left her marriage from her childrens Father she lived with me with my grand daughters and that was ok but I called her on the new hubby who is in jail and said didn't want this around my grandkids not unreasonable request and I get shut out for her mistake

  5. From the perspective of a practicing attorney, it sounds like this masters degree in law for non-attorneys will be useless to anyone who gets it. "However, Ted Waggoner, chair of the ISBA’s Legal Education Conclave, sees the potential for the degree program to actually help attorneys do their jobs better. He pointed to his practice at Peterson Waggoner & Perkins LLP in Rochester and how some clients ask their attorneys to do work, such as filling out insurance forms, that they could do themselves. Waggoner believes the individuals with the legal master’s degrees could do the routine, mundane business thus freeing the lawyers to do the substantive legal work." That is simply insulting to suggest that someone with a masters degree would work in a role that is subpar to even an administrative assistant. Even someone with just a certificate or associate's degree in paralegal studies would be overqualified to sit around helping clients fill out forms. Anyone who has a business background that they think would be enhanced by having a legal background will just go to law school, or get an MBA (which typically includes a business law class that gives a generic, broad overview of legal concepts). No business-savvy person would ever seriously consider this ridiculous master of law for non-lawyers degree. It reeks of desperation. The only people I see getting it are the ones who did not get into law school, who see the degree as something to add to their transcript in hopes of getting into a JD program down the road.

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