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Justice Frank Sullivan leaving bench to teach

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On the same day Indiana’s newest Supreme Court justice started his job, Justice Frank Sullivan announced he would be stepping down from the bench to teach business and corporate finance law at Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law this fall.

After almost 19 years as a justice, the 62-year-old South Bend native said this is his chance to start the next chapter of his career.

“Though my work here has been deeply satisfying and I’m proud of it, probably two years ago, I got to thinking I was reaching an age where if I was going to do one more big thing before retiring, I needed to get about it,” Sullivan said.

Last September, he contacted the law school and asked about a teaching job. He taught a public finance law class there as an adjunct professor from 2007 to 2009, which piqued his interest in a career move. Just before Thanksgiving, he agreed with Dean Gary Roberts to start talking more seriously in January.

But an end-of-the-year surprise made Sullivan slow down: Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard told Sullivan about his plans to leave the court. The news went public in early December.

Sullivan decided to wait for Shepard’s successor to be named and take the bench before announcing he would join the law school faculty. Sullivan told his staff and close friends after the governor chose Mark Massa March 23. Sullivan made a public announcement April 2, just a couple hours after the new justice was sworn in.

The job change takes Sullivan back to his business and corporate finance days – Sullivan worked as state budget director for three years and also practiced in corporate finance and securities law at Barnes & Thornburg in Indianapolis before joining the court.

“The law so dramatically impacts our economy, and our economy is impacted by the law. So this is exciting to be at that intersection, operating on that fault line,” he said.

Roberts said Sullivan will bring a valuable perspective to the law school’s roster, with a wealth of practical experience that is different than the typical faculty insight.

“He can help us build bridges that are critical to our law school’s success and future,” Roberts said. “This is truly a unique and special hire for us.”

This latest news continues a period of change for the Indiana Supreme Court and gives Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels a rare chance to make three appointments to the state’s highest court – a majority that could impact how cases are decided. That hasn’t happened since Democrat Evan Bayh made four appointments in the mid-1990s, including Sullivan.
 

sullivan-roberts-15col.jpg Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law Dean Gary R. Roberts, left, speaks with Justice Frank Sullivan at the law school. (IL Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

Although Sullivan hasn’t yet decided when his last day will be, he knows it will be before the fall semester begins Aug. 22.

The Judicial Nominating Commission will interview applicants interested in becoming the state’s 108th justice, but the timing of that process hasn’t been announced. Sullivan said he hopes the application process is longer than what he’s observed during the past two appointment periods to replace Shepard and Justice Theodore Boehm. Applicants had about a month each time to apply. The fast elimination process may have discouraged some applicants in 2010 from applying again, and he hopes there’s more time for the nominating process this round.

Sullivan said he believes Indiana’s demographics support increasing the size of the Supreme Court. He thinks Indiana would be better served by seven justices instead of five – the Indiana constitution allows for between four and eight associate justices and one chief justice. He also thinks the court would be better off if there was at least one female justice, and he said having more members would allow for the possibility that more women could be appointed.

Sullivan hopes that more women apply this time and receive the commission’s consideration.

Sullivan recognizes that he had a hand in deciding that this Republican governor will choose his successor. Sullivan said who was serving as governor factored little into his decision to retire this year, and it plays into the nonpartisan nature this court has had through the years.

“In my almost 19 years on this court,” he said, “I don’t think there has been a single what I would call Democrat-versus-Republican case that has been decided on a party-line vote. Not one.”

Sullivan has been known for relentlessly questioning attorneys during oral arguments – often with hypothetical scenarios of future law that could result from what the court is deciding in the case before it. He likes to say that he “shoots from the hip,” and sometimes he wonders if he talks too much during arguments.

“Even if you are only deciding the case before you, you are writing for the future,” Sullivan said. “If you look at a lot of my questions, they are meant to test the arguments the lawyers are making against whether the rule of law they are advocating will work not only for their case but also the next case. I like engaging the lawyers. I learn a lot.”

Sullivan has written around 500 majority opinions, including Creasy v. Rusk in 2000, a civil tort case involving people with disabilities.

“I hope that my legacy would be one as a judge who tried to find the best decision, the best result to every case that came before the court without regard to any ideological or partisan preconception,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan is also known for chairing the Judicial Technology and Automation Committee, which has rolled out a statewide case management system known as Odyssey. That system is currently live in 120 courts, handling about 35 percent of the state’s caseload.

Sullivan’s work with minorities, including a recruitment program through the Indiana State Bar Association, has also defined his judicial career.

Barnes & Thornburg partner Jimmie McMillian called Sullivan the inspiration for his legal career. The attorney clerked for Sullivan from 2002-2004, and the justice then encouraged him to join Barnes & Thornburg. McMillian said he wasn’t interested because he was looking at smaller firms that served African-American clients. But Sullivan convinced him that he could do good and feel comfortable at a large firm setting, and the two have grown to have a father-son style relationship.

“You would be hard pressed to find another member of the judiciary who is as committed to diversity as he is,” McMillian said.

Appellate attorney Bryan Babb at Bose McKinney & Evans, another of Sullivan’s former law clerks, said this departure is a loss for the Supreme Court but an opportunity for the rest of the legal community.

“We’ve all benefited from those years of consistency and stability on the court, whether you agree with the decisions or not,” he said. “The challenge will be moving ahead with that same level of consistency and respect, but also taking it to the next level.”•

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  1. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  2. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  3. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

  4. When I hear 'Juvenile Lawyer' I think of an attorney helping a high school aged kid through the court system for a poor decision; like smashing mailboxes. Thank you for opening up my eyes to the bigger picture of the need for juvenile attorneys. It made me sad, but also fascinated, when it was explained, in the sixth paragraph, that parents making poor decisions (such as drug abuse) can cause situations where children need legal representation and aid from a lawyer.

  5. Some in the Hoosier legal elite consider this prayer recommended by the AG seditious, not to mention the Saint who pledged loyalty to God over King and went to the axe for so doing: "Thomas More, counselor of law and statesman of integrity, merry martyr and most human of saints: Pray that, for the glory of God and in the pursuit of His justice, I may be trustworthy with confidences, keen in study, accurate in analysis, correct in conclusion, able in argument, loyal to clients, honest with all, courteous to adversaries, ever attentive to conscience. Sit with me at my desk and listen with me to my clients' tales. Read with me in my library and stand always beside me so that today I shall not, to win a point, lose my soul. Pray that my family may find in me what yours found in you: friendship and courage, cheerfulness and charity, diligence in duties, counsel in adversity, patience in pain—their good servant, and God's first. Amen."

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