Though she’s been on the appellate bench for 12 years, Judge Margret Robb is now adding a new distinction to her judicial title.
The word “chief” now precedes her customary title and name.
With that, she also becomes the first woman to be elected chief judge for Indiana’s intermediate appellate court.
“I’m honored that my colleagues voted for me and that I’m the first woman,” Chief Judge Robb said about the appellate court chief election earlier in the year. “But at the same time, I am just as proud that it was not because I’m a woman, but because they saw me as someone they want to be the chief.”
She succeeds Judge John G. Baker, who took on that role in 2007. Judge Baker followed Judge James S. Kirsch, who became the chief judge mid-year in 2005 after Judge Sanford Brook retired from the court and started the domino effect for the non-calendar year terms.
Just retained by voters in November for a second 10-year term, Chief Judge Robb took the bench in July 1998 after Gov. Frank O’Bannon appointed her to the fifth judicial circuit seat. The Indiana University School of Law – Indianapolis graduate practiced for more than 20 years in Lafayette, also serving as a federal bankruptcy trustee in the Northern District of Indiana and previously as a Tippecanoe County deputy public defender. During the past decade, she’s held multiple leadership roles in bar associations and the legal community statewide and nationally, including serving on the American Bar Association’s committee that accredits law schools.
Now that she’s chief judge, part of her responsibility includes serving on the Indiana Judges Association – a role that Judge Baker held during his time as chief judge.
Judge Nancy Vaidik, who’s been on the appellate court since 2000, said the significance of having a female in that chief judge role is important.
“I’m proud of our court, and she can be a female role model. That’s particularly important since we don’t have any women on our Supreme Court, and there are only two (nationally) without one,” she said.
Judge Robb recognizes the importance, but emphasizes that she doesn’t want to put too much emphasis on the gender aspect.
“I’m mindful that this is significant to a lot of people,” she said. “By me being first, that now means there can be a second and a third… until eventually no one notices and talks about it because it’s so common. That’s the way it should be.”
Chief Judge Robb said it’s too early to have any specific plans or focuses for her administrative role. Instead, she plans to carry on the work of her predecessors and make sure the appellate court maintains its reputation of being efficient and professional within the legal community.
During Judge Baker’s time as chief judge, Chief Judge Robb said the court pushed to make sure that attorneys were more realistic in what they requested as far as extensions and procedural matters. That is something she plans to continue.
“When things are working really well, it’s tough to see where you need to go,” Chief Judge Robb said. “You want to see where the shortcomings are and make sure the court stays on task as well as it has, generally. I do see issues that might come up, but they don’t really relate to me specifically and would likely present themselves no matter who was the chief.”
Those include the ongoing balance between efficiency and cost management, which puts the appellate court’s caseload at odds with limited financial resources statewide and for the judiciary overall. The idea of adding a new sixth panel to the bench has come up in recent years but hasn’t gone anywhere to date. Chief Judge Robb said e-filing and court reform will also likely be continuing topics of discussion for everyone.
She also points to the issue of whether all appellate opinions should be citable, a long-debated point that became more significant in 2006 when the Indiana Supreme Court allowed Not for Publication opinions to be posted online. The rule change didn’t alter Appellate Rule 65(D) that says these rulings aren’t precedent-setting, as the federal courts and other states allow. Chief Judge Robb thinks that may continue being a question that the court must consider.
With a background that includes experience as a registered family and civil mediator, Chief Judge Robb notes that Indiana has never embraced the idea of appellate mediation and she wonders whether that will be a topic of discussion down the road. One reason it hasn’t taken hold is the judiciary’s efficiency makes it difficult to have ADR at that level, she said.
“Overall, we’re an intermediate court so on many things we don’t have the authority to do,” she said. “I think we, as a court, have reasonable expectations from the practicing bar and we mutually respect each other. That goes a long way.”•