A consumer protection official, a public defender, two judges and a law professor are semifinalists for a position on the Indiana Court of Appeals.
The Indiana Judicial Nominating Commission on May 16 selected Abigail Lawlis Kuzma, of Indianapolis; Patricia Caress McMath, of Indianapolis; Madison Circuit Judge Rudolph R. Pyle III, of Anderson; Joel M. Schumm, of Indianapolis; and Marion Superior Judge Robert R. Altice Jr., of Indianapolis. The five were chosen from a field of 14 applicants vying to fill the vacancy that will be created when appellate Judge Carr Darden retires in July.
Each of the semifinalists will be interviewed a second time June 4 or 5. The commission then will select three finalists whose names will be sent to Gov. Mitch Daniels, who will make the appointment.
The commission, chaired by Chief Justice Brent Dickson, asked candidates what they most admired about the Court of Appeals and what qualities they would bring, if selected.
Kuzma, who leads the Office of the Indiana Attorney General’s consumer protection division, said she appreciated the court’s efforts to reach out to Hoosiers through its website, plain language jury instructions, and “appeals on wheels,” in which appellate panels travel the state for oral arguments.
Kuzma stressed her organizational leadership and prior charitable work as co-founder of the Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic in Indianapolis. At the consumer protection division, she oversees a staff of about 100 people, including 35 attorneys, who focus on fraud prevention, foreclosure prevention and other consumer issues. “It’s very rewarding but also a very diverse experience of helping people,” she said. “I am a high-energy person.”
McMath is one of three former Court of Appeals law clerks who made the cut. She handles appeals for the Marion County Public Defender Agency.
She said she admired the court for making “a written appeal in every case, so Hoosiers know” why the case was decided as it was. “It’s a remarkable thing considering that kind of caseload.”
McMath said her familiarity with appeals was a strong suit. “I have vast experience with appellate law,” she said, citing seven years as a clerk for two judges and 15 years as a public defender working exclusively in the appeals court.
Pyle, a Madison Circuit judge, also clerked at the Court of Appeals for the man he hopes to succeed – Darden. He said he was impressed by the court’s emphasis on civility and recalled when writing as a law clerk being impressed by the respectful tone of dissents.
“I’m committed to that process,” Pyle said.
He stressed his diversity of experience that includes being an Indiana state trooper, deputy prosecutor, defense attorney, running a private practice, and being appointed and elected to the bench.
“I’ve had the opportunity to see the law on almost every level,” he said.
Altice, a longtime Marion Superior judge, said he knows the judges on the appeals court through his years on the bench.
“Probably the biggest skill I bring is experience,” he said, including trying more than 270 criminal cases, including 40 murder cases; and bringing more than 100 cases as a prosecutor.
“I try to build consensus wherever I can,” Altice said. “It’s just the nature of my personality.”
Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law professor Joel Schumm is among those who have experience as an appeals court clerk. He stressed his academic background and said he admired “the way the Court of Appeals guarantees an absolute right to one appeal.”
Schumm said that he would bring a fitting work ethic to a court that generates more than 2,000 opinions per year.
Of his attributes, he said, “the biggest one is writing and analytical ability. … Writing excellent opinions.”
Other applicants were: Marion Superior Judge Cynthia J. Ayers, of Indianapolis; Jeffrey D. Wehmueller, of Fishers; Carol Nemeth Joven, of Indianapolis; Bryce D. Owens, of Pendleton; Brenda A. Roper, of Indianapolis; Rebecca A. Trent, of West Lafayette; Howard Superior Judge William C. Menges Jr., of Kokomo; Chris M. Teagle, of Albany; and Kari Evans Bennett, of Noblesville.•