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.•

Greg Morris is publisher of Indianapolis Business Journal, sister publication to Indiana Lawyer. To comment on this column, send email to


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  1. Mr Smith, while most reading these posts are too busy making money or cranking out what passes for justice in our legal-techocrat order,I have often attempted to resist your cynicism, well thought out cynicism I admit. Please know that I give up, I can resist your logic no more. From Locknarian Platonic Guardians, through the incorporation doctine, to substantive due process, to Roe, to the latest demands that all states redefine the foundational stone of all civilized social order, the history of America's fall from Grace is inscribed on the dockets of the judiciary. From the federal judges' apostasy of a kind that would have caused John Jay to recommend capital punishment, to the state judges' refusal to protect the sanctuary of the state constitutions, seeing in them merely a font from which to protect pornographers, those who scream "f*ck the police" and pemubras and emanations following the federal apostates, it has been the judiciary, by and large, that has brought the Experiment in Ordered Liberty to an end. The Founders had great and high hopes that they had designed the third branch to save the Republic from such a time as this ... rather the third branch has allowed itself to be used to drag the Republic into rat infested sewers from which no nation has ever returned. Save me from tomorrow:

  2. Especially I would like to see all the republican voting patriotic good ole boys to stop and understand that the wars they have been volunteering for all along (especially the past decade at least) have not been for God & Jesus etc no far from it unless you think George Washington's face on the US dollar is god (and we know many do). When I saw the movie about Chris Kyle, I thought wow how many Hoosiers are just like this guy, out there taking orders to do the nasty on the designated bad guys, sometimes bleeding and dying, sometimes just serving and coming home to defend a system that really just views them as reliable cannon fodder. Maybe if the Christians of the red states would stop volunteering for the imperial legions and begin collecting welfare instead of working their butts off, there would be a change in attitude from the haughty professorial overlords that tell us when democracy is allowed and when it isn't. To come home from guarding the borders of the sandbox just to hear if they want the government to protect this country's borders then they are racists and bigots. Well maybe the professorial overlords should gird their own loins for war and fight their own battles in the sandbox. We can see what kind of system this really is from lawsuits like this and we can understand who it really serves. NOT US.... I mean what are all you Hoosiers waving the flag for, the right of the president to start wars of aggression to benefit the Saudis, the right of gay marriage, the right for illegal immigrants to invade our country, and the right of the ACLU to sue over displays of Baby Jesus? The right of the 1 percenters to get richer, the right of zombie banks to use taxpayer money to stay out of bankruptcy? The right of Congress to start a pissing match that could end in WWIII in Ukraine? None of that crud benefits us. We should be like the Amish. You don't have to go far from this farcical lawsuit to find the wise ones, they're in the buggies in the streets not far away....

  3. Moreover, we all know that the well heeled ACLU has a litigation strategy of outspending their adversaries. And, with the help of the legal system well trained in secularism, on top of the genuinely and admittedly secular 1st amendment, they have the strategic high ground. Maybe Christians should begin like the Amish to withdraw their services from the state and the public and become themselves a "people who shall dwell alone" and foster their own kind and let the other individuals and money interests fight it out endlessly in court. I mean, if "the people" don't see how little the state serves their interests, putting Mammon first at nearly every turn, then maybe it is time they wake up and smell the coffee. Maybe all the displays of religiosity by American poohbahs on down the decades have been a mask of piety that concealed their own materialistic inclinations. I know a lot of patriotic Christians don't like that notion but I entertain it more and more all the time.

  4. If I were a judge (and I am not just a humble citizen) I would be inclined to make a finding that there was no real controversy and dismiss them. Do we allow a lawsuit every time someone's feelings are hurt now? It's preposterous. The 1st amendment has become a sword in the hands of those who actually want to suppress religious liberty according to their own backers' conception of how it will serve their own private interests. The state has a duty of impartiality to all citizens to spend its judicial resources wisely and flush these idiotic suits over Nativity Scenes down the toilet where they belong... however as Christians we should welcome them as they are the very sort of persecution that separates the sheep from the wolves.

  5. What about the single mothers trying to protect their children from mentally abusive grandparents who hide who they truly are behind mounds and years of medication and have mentally abused their own children to the point of one being in jail and the other was on drugs. What about trying to keep those children from being subjected to the same abuse they were as a child? I can understand in the instance about the parent losing their right and the grandparent having raised the child previously! But not all circumstances grant this being OKAY! some of us parents are trying to protect our children and yes it is our God given right to make those decisions for our children as adults!! This is not just black and white and I will fight every ounce of this to get denied