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Morris: Shepard's legacy is transparent government

Greg Morris
February 29, 2012
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morris-commentaryI know a lot has been written recently about retiring Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Randall Shepard. The press coverage has been a glowing review of his service to Indiana residents. In fact, over the years, I’ve never heard a disparaging word about Randall Shepard. And I say — deservedly so. It has been my honor to know him.

So, I was pleased when the Hoosier State Press Association recently honored Shepard with a Frank O’Bannon Sunshine Award for his support of open government. I can’t think of a more deserving recipient.

With many state legislators observing, Judy O’Bannon, the late governor’s wife, presented the award symbolizing transparency in government to Shepard during a luncheon at the HSPA Annual Meetings and Government Conference at the Indianapolis Marriott Downtown on Feb. 16.

Shepard’s efforts to help Hoosiers understand how the court system works were lauded by O’Bannon, an owner of The Corydon Democrat newspaper, which nominated the jurist for the honor. The O’Bannon Sunshine Award, first awarded in 2005, honors an individual, group or organization demonstrating outstanding effort to protect and enhance open government in Indiana.

“Some people think the press only reports the bad news — the one bad apple in a barrel of good public officials and employees,” said HSPA executive director and general counsel Stephen Key. “The Frank O’Bannon Sunshine Award honors that golden apple — those public servants or citizens who understand that our government should be transparent to the people it serves.”

The Corydon Democrat’s nomination, submitted by Publisher Jon O’Bannon, included the following testimonial:

“Chief Justice Randy Shepard has articulated the belief that newspapers and the judiciary have a symbiotic relationship. The judiciary needs the coverage of its operations and decisions to help strengthen its role as one of the three equal branches of government, each serving as a counterweight to the other two branches. The judiciary is dependent upon the opinion of the courts by the people to give it the strength to fulfill its role, and the press is a key factor in giving the public information to form its opinion of the court system. Meanwhile, the press is reliant upon the judiciary to protect its newsgathering ability through First Amendment-related decisions. If the court doesn’t support the freedom of press, newspapers’ ability to serve as a government watchdog could be severely curtailed.

“With that view, the chief justice has taken steps to make the workings of the judiciary more transparent. Under his watch:

“n Media cameras are allowed in the appellate courts, and arguments are webcast across the Internet.

“n The Supreme Court has approved one pilot project allowing cameras in trial courtrooms and is considering a new project (approved since this nomination).

“n The Supreme Court updated its Administrative Rule 9 to take into account issues raised by a digital environment.

“n The Supreme Court issued an order reducing the incidence of trial court judges agreeing to draw a veil of secrecy around specific cases.”

Before closing, I want to take the opportunity to tout some of the chief justice’s work on a topic near and dear to me — civic engagement. Shepard has been very active in this area. The Indiana Supreme Court runs Courts in the Classroom to help educators, students, historians and interested citizens learn more about the history and operation of Indiana’s judicial branch.

Also, Shepard has been involved with the Indiana Civic Health Index project, which examines behaviors and attitudes of Hoosiers regarding civic life and explores resources and impediments that affect how citizens of Indiana participate in civic life. As an example, the information obtained in this report can help us design and implement strategies to improve voter turnout.

Shepard’s impending retirement is certainly a great loss to the court and comes on the heels of Justice Ted Boehm’s retirement in late 2010. The combined knowledge, experience and talent of these two remarkable men cannot be overstated. One bit of good news is that Boehm vowed not to disappear in retirement, and that has been the case. We can only hope and believe the same will be true of Chief Justice Randall Shepard.

Best of luck, chief justice, and congratulations on receiving the Frank O’Bannon Sunshine Award. Thanks for your outstanding service, and thank you for your efforts in protecting and enhancing open government in Indiana.•
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Greg Morris is publisher of Indianapolis Business Journal, sister publication to Indiana Lawyer. To comment on this column, send email to gmorris@ibj.com.

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  1. This law is troubling in two respects: First, why wasn't the law reviewed "with the intention of getting all the facts surrounding the legislation and its actual impact on the marketplace" BEFORE it was passed and signed? Seems a bit backwards to me (even acknowledging that this is the Indiana state legislature we're talking about. Second, what is it with the laws in this state that seem to create artificial monopolies in various industries? Besides this one, the other law that comes to mind is the legislation that governed the granting of licenses to firms that wanted to set up craft distilleries. The licensing was limited to only those entities that were already in the craft beer brewing business. Republicans in this state talk a big game when it comes to being "business friendly". They're friendly alright . . . to certain businesses.

  2. Gretchen, Asia, Roberto, Tonia, Shannon, Cheri, Nicholas, Sondra, Carey, Laura ... my heart breaks for you, reaching out in a forum in which you are ignored by a professional suffering through both compassion fatigue and the love of filthy lucre. Most if not all of you seek a warm blooded Hoosier attorney unafraid to take on the government and plead that government officials have acted unconstitutionally to try to save a family and/or rescue children in need and/or press individual rights against the Leviathan state. I know an attorney from Kansas who has taken such cases across the country, arguing before half of the federal courts of appeal and presenting cases to the US S.Ct. numerous times seeking cert. Unfortunately, due to his zeal for the constitutional rights of peasants and willingness to confront powerful government bureaucrats seemingly violating the same ... he was denied character and fitness certification to join the Indiana bar, even after he was cleared to sit for, and passed, both the bar exam and ethics exam. And was even admitted to the Indiana federal bar! NOW KNOW THIS .... you will face headwinds and difficulties in locating a zealously motivated Hoosier attorney to face off against powerful government agents who violate the constitution, for those who do so tend to end up as marginalized as Paul Odgen, who was driven from the profession. So beware, many are mere expensive lapdogs, the kind of breed who will gladly take a large retainer, but then fail to press against the status quo and powers that be when told to heel to. It is a common belief among some in Indiana that those attorneys who truly fight the power and rigorously confront corruption often end up, actually or metaphorically, in real life or at least as to their careers, as dead as the late, great Gary Welch. All of that said, I wish you the very best in finding a Hoosier attorney with a fighting spirit to press your rights as far as you can, for you do have rights against government actors, no matter what said actors may tell you otherwise. Attorneys outside the elitist camp are often better fighters that those owing the powers that be for their salaries, corner offices and end of year bonuses. So do not be afraid to retain a green horn or unconnected lawyer, many of them are fine men and woman who are yet untainted by the "unique" Hoosier system.

  3. I am not the John below. He is a journalist and talk show host who knows me through my years working in Kansas government. I did no ask John to post the note below ...

  4. "...not those committed in the heat of an argument." If I ever see a man physically abusing a woman or a child and I'm close enough to intercede I will not ask him why he is abusing her/him. I will give him a split second to cease his attack and put his hands in the air while I call the police. If he continues, I will still call the police but to report, "Man down with a gunshot wound,"instead.

  5. And so the therapeutic state is weaonized. How soon until those with ideologies opposing the elite are disarmed in the name of mental health? If it can start anywhere it can start in the hoosiers' slavishly politically correct capital city.

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