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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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