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Remembering former Indiana Justice Dixon W. Prentice

August 13, 2014
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Indiana Lawyer Commentary

In early 1971 I went to work for the Honorable Dixon W. Prentice, Justice of the Indiana Supreme Court. Although I left a higher-paying job to make the move, it was one of the smartest and most gratifying things I ever did. Justice Prentice was a somewhat quiet man, stern in appearance, and a stickler for Court protocol and the propriety of public office. Over the next two years I would learn that he was a man of principle determined to serve the people of the State of Indiana to the best of his abilities. He was also a kind man and a friend and I mourn his passing in Tucson on July 20th.
 

prentice Prentice

I was the first law clerk he hired after being elected to his seat on the Court. That election was the last in which the justices would face an opponent on the ballot. The law was changed so that they would face a yes-no vote instead, every ten years. As his law clerk I was required to review incoming appeals, research the law, and prepare a proposed opinion. I did my job as thoroughly as I could and didn’t submit anything to the judge until I was satisfied I hadn’t overlooked anything. Given his demeanor and belief in detail and accuracy, I knew nothing short of my best would suffice.

I loved the job and really admired the Judge, who became a friend as well as my superior. I worked hard and he always showed his appreciation, like giving me tickets to ball games he didn’t plan to attend. Although I did extensive research on every case, many times he did additional on his own. He was a stickler for detail and accuracy and wouldn’t settle for anything unless he was sure. Many times he would stay late after everyone was gone and literally burn the “midnight oil.” He had to be absolutely sure that something was right before he signed off on it. He was a truly dedicated public official, as others in the office such as Bea Dickson, his secretary, and Rick Mouser, a law clerk he hired later, would readily attest. Both Bea, a former secretary to Governor Welsh, and Rick, who graduated first in his class, had great respect for Justice Prentice. He deserved every bit of it.

He felt that he and everyone else that worked in his office were servants of the people, and his conduct and office rules reflected it. He insisted that the office not be closed for any reason during normal working hours. He was a good man and a great Judge, who would be perfect as a model for what elected officials should do and how they should conduct themselves.

I had and have the greatest respect for Justice Dixon W. Prentice. After I left the court and was practicing law I represented him in a lawsuit. On another occasion he offered to appoint me as Circuit judge in a southern county where the bench was vacant. I declined but was flattered that he asked me. I saw him and toasted him at his retirement party and stayed in touch after he moved to Tucson. He lived a good full life but now he is gone. I am sad. He and all that he stands for will be sorely missed.•

Rest in peace Your Honor,
Your loyal law clerk, George (Cottrell)
 

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  1. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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