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State of the Judiciary touches on economy

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The state's top judge this afternoon addressed a joint session of the Indiana General Assembly for the annual State of the Judiciary, focusing on how the courts can help rebuild the state and country's battered confidence caused by economic turmoil.

Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard stood before lawmakers and fellow judges in the Indiana House of Representatives for the 2 p.m. address, the 22nd time he's done so. The Evansville native took the chief justice spot in 1987, two years after joining the Indiana Supreme Court, but gave his first official update on the judiciary's accomplishments and challenges in 1988.

The tough economy was the backdrop of Chief Justice Shepard's address this year, and he touched on family pressures and the foreclosure crisis and how fallout from those issues shows up in court, and how the judiciary is stepping up to contribute to that road of recovery.

"Effective and reliable courts are especially important in times when the public and private sectors are so pressed," Chief Justice Shepard said. "Just as trust in the mechanics of finance empowers the real economy, effective and reliable courts are a key part of the engine that keeps America going."

Focusing on families, the chief justice noted how Indiana has pushed for every abused or neglected child to have an advocate, how 72 of the state's 92 counties are using an electronic notification system that alerts law enforcement as soon as a domestic violence protective order is issued, and how local correctional programs are being strengthened while drug and alcohol courts are being established more frequently statewide.

On the foreclosure issue, Chief Justice Shepard noted how Indiana has a system emulated by other states where pro bono attorneys are helping people who have civil legal problems but can't afford to hire a lawyer.

The chief justice also pointed to an effort by the Judicial Conference of Indiana's governing board to reform the state court system, which involves upgrading judicial and staff education, building more collaboration between judges in various counties, increasing state support and funding of trial courts, and reforming how trial judges are selected statewide.

"In the midst of so much gloom, this will be a message that conveys hope about the future of our nation and our state."

Both the text and a webcast of the chief justice's address are online at http://www.in.gov/judiciary.

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