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Lucas: More information is needed when judging the judges

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EidtPerspLucas-sigMy mailbox has been overflowing lately with political flyers. I can’t turn on the television without seeing a steady barrage of Pence vs. Gregg, Mourdock vs. Donnelly or, of course, Obama vs. Romney ads. I’m sure you can relate.

But up the street and around the corner from my Broad Ripple house, a yard sign caught my eye that didn’t involve the usual Democrat versus Republican political rhetoric. This simple, hand-painted sign called for the ouster of Supreme Court Justice Steven David.

I find this rather disjointed grassroots effort to remove a sitting Supreme Court justice from the bench both fascinating and disturbing.

On the one hand, it demonstrates the people exercising their right of free speech, and based on what I know of Justice David, no one would support that more than him. In this issue of Indiana Lawyer, the justice speaks about those who oppose him, saying: “If somebody feels strongly that they don’t like the decision, I would defend until my death their right to have that opinion. As painful as that may be personally, that is who we are” as a country.

As I’m sure most know by now, the decision Justice David refers to is Richard L. Barnes v. State of Indiana, issued by the Supreme Court in 2011. In the case stemming from police response to a domestic violence 911 call, Justice David wrote the majority opinion which held that “there is no right to reasonably resist unlawful entry by police officers.” While protests over the decision from those who felt it contradicted the Fourth Amendment and calls to remove the justice seemed to die down late last year, new life seems to have been breathed into the effort during this campaign season even though statutory changes made by the 2012 Legislature made the decision moot.

Still, public conversation is vital, and regardless of your stance on the issue brought to light through Barnes, it is good to see that the process can work. Judges rule based on their interpretation of the laws and Constitution; citizens voice their concerns if they do not feel those decisions, based on our rule of law, reflect society; and government reacts to effect change, if deemed appropriate. Opinions may not be unanimous, they may not always be correct, but the majority rules.

But on the other hand, the effort raises concerns about the understanding our citizenry has as to the role of a judge. I am certainly not the first to question this. Surveys tend to reveal that society at large knows little about the judiciary. Many people can not name members of their state’s supreme court. They tend to do a bit better with naming U.S. Supreme Court justices, but not significantly better.

Knowing this, it is not surprising that there is a lack of understanding in our society about how judges and justices arrive at the decisions they issue. Of course, I have no way of knowing if those behind this particular retention campaign effort understand that judges must rule using the laws and Constitution. Some have said they feel a line was crossed in this decision, but do they believe that line was crossed due to the interjection of personal or political opinion in the case or because the justices writing for the majority interpreted the law and Constitution differently than their detractors do?

Court-watchers say Justice David’s decisions have been fairly mainstream or middle of the road. Indiana attorneys gave him a favorability rating of 81 percent in the Indiana State Bar Association judicial survey. When Gov. Mitch Daniels chose Justice David to fill a seat on the Supreme Court, he said from him he heard, “the clearest expression of commitment to proper restraint in jurisprudence and deep respect for the boundaries of judicial decision making.” Gov. Daniels said, “He will be a judge who interprets rather than invents our laws.”

I understand that I am “preaching to the choir” when it comes to understanding the role of the judiciary. Regardless of your opinion of this particular judge’s work, or any judge’s work for that matter, it seems supporting the ouster of a judge based on one decision is dangerous. It seems to fly in the face of maintaining an independent judiciary. So is this, as they say, a teaching moment? Is it time for the choir to start singing?

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  • How condescending!
    Is it wrong for an ordinary citizen to disagree, not so much with a judge's decision but with a very poorly written ruling? Am I not 'educated' enough to have a voice? What if I simply feel that this Justice did a terrible job, most specifically on how he wrote the ruling, on a extremely important case? I thought he muddied the water and went beyond what the attorneys and the case regarded. If I majorly screw up an important project at my job I would face reprisal or possibly termination especially if it jeopardizes my employer. They would at least expect me to accept responsibility. I simply came to this site in research about how to make my retention vote and wanted to review these events objectively. (yes, I might be a rare breed that reviews the entire ballot before I go to vote.) However, I am amazed at arrogance expressed in this article. I don't believe you are an arrogant person. I tend to give most people the benefit of the doubt and I don't know you personally. So I want to ask, do judges and attorneys view citizens this way, an angry mob of mindless zombies that need to be schooled in the high and mighty ways of judicial workings? Or is the Judiciary too much for the meager concerned citizen to comprehend? No need to respond... I am just an ordinary citizen with no judicial qualifications.

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  1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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