The Indiana Judicial Nominating Commission began interviews with 22 candidates vying to replace retiring Justice Frank Sullivan Jr. The interviews are taking place Tuesday and Wednesday, and the commission will narrow the list Wednesday to those who will be interviewed a second time in August.
Candidates each were asked an opening question by commission chairman, Chief Justice Brent Dickson: What would you enjoy most, and least about serving on the Supreme Court, and what are your qualifications? Following are excerpts of Tuesday's interviews:
Thomas M. Fisher, 43, solicitor general in the office of the attorney general, said he would most enjoy the intellectual engagement and collegial atmosphere among justices in deliberating cases and writing opinions. “That, to me, is the most critical feature of being a court of last resort.” He would enjoy participating in a body in which “issues were considered circumspectly.”
Fisher would least like presiding in judicial and attorney discipline matters, saying such matters were “distasteful.”
A challenge for the courts and attorneys in the future will be the way in which briefs are written and filed, and Fisher said some consideration will have to be made for the “growing number of judges who are reading briefs not just on a computer screen, but on their iPads.”
Dickson noted Fisher's membership in the Federalist Society and asked how that might affect his view from the bench.
“I don't have any agendas,” he said. “I think courts are designed to be incremental, and the legislature is designed to make big policy decisions.”
“I think a judge should put aside those personal philosophical preferences and religious preferences,” he said.
Alicia A. Gooden, 41, family law mediator with the Mediation Group LLP, Indianapolis said the involvement in the decision-making process with fellow justices would be the aspect she would most enjoy if appointed to the court.
Helping justices arrive at and author opinions would be “the most intriguing” aspect of serving on the court, Gooden said. She stressed her ability to create and nurture partnerships with community-based partners in and out of the legal community as an asset. She said she's educated students from kindergarten through law school about the profession and welcomed the opportunity to continue representing and promoting the image of the profession.
Gooden said the potential of “being an ambassador for the court and this state is just hugely invigorating.”
Her least favorite responsibility of serving as a justice would be handling attorney and judicial discipline cases. “Quite frankly, that would make me sad,” Gooden said, adding, “it's a critical part of this work.
Gooden said she also has assisted CLEO fellows who've served with her as bailiffs, clerks and shadowing her work as a mediator. “Anything that can improve those mentoring opportunities for younger lawyers or less experienced lawyers does nothing but provide a better public outlook” for the profession.
Karen R. Orr, 48, attorney with Stuart & Branigin LLP, Lafayette, said “the core function of decision-making and drafting opinions are something I very much enjoy doing,” likening the work to working a puzzle.
She said not having been inside the Supreme Court, it would be difficult to determine what she would like least about serving, noting that the justices have multiple demands on their time. But she suspected she would least enjoy overseeing attorney and judge disciplinary actions.
Dickson asked Orr, who lives in Monticello, if she would move to Indianapolis if appointed, and she said she would. Orr also discussed her experience in law around the state, from private practice in her hometown of Covington to experience in Hamilton County, Tippecanoe County and elsewhere. “I've enjoyed the good fortune of being able to work in many environments,” she said.
Orr, the third candidate and second woman interviewed, was the first to field a question about whether a woman should be appointed to the position. “Would a woman's view be helpful? I think it would,” Orr said, noting the court has always benefited from diversity.
John P. Young, 49, an attorney with Young & Young Attorneys, said his experience in running a third-generation law firm would help the Supreme Court “continue the fine reputation it has developed in the last 25 years.”
“I think I could be very helpful in the business end of things, administering personnel and administering strategic planning,” Young said.
Young said the important qualities in a justice are empathy, respect, a strong dedication to precedent and intellectual curiosity. He noted his grandfather was a justice and Dickson pointed out that Young's father was a member of the commission. Dickson asked if those factors led to his pursuit of a seat on the high court; Young said he was driven by a passion for service and the law.
The thing Young said he would least enjoy as a justice would be “seeing attorneys attempting significant advocacy and missing the point, and attacking each other or the court.”
Young also said that technology is vital, and the Odyssey project – which makes trial court records available online – might be one of the most important programs in terms of helping people learn about the courts.
Young also noted that he had litigated cases for plaintiffs and defendants in 36 areas of law and stressed his view of representing from the standpoint of a small businessman.
Indiana Court of Appeals Judge Elaine B. Brown, 58, said collegiality and administration of the court, particularly the Indiana Judicial Center, are among the things she would enjoy as a justice.
She also said she would like being a public face of the court. “I would enjoy being a role model to women and young girls.”
Brown shared an anecdote of taking her young daughter to work one day where she encountered a male judge in a robe and said, “Mommy, I didn't know boys could be judges.”
Brown said she's been involved for decades on matters involving substance abuse, often in conjunction with the Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program.
“I am particularly passionate about problem-solving courts in that they have the proven track record of reducing recidivism while at the same time saving serious tax dollars,” she said.
Dickson asked Brown to name cases she considered the best and worst examples of Supreme Court jurisprudence. The best, she said, was an errant golf ball case; the most disappointing one was one in which her order was overturned involving a Terre Haute mayoral race. “I regret so much that decision because I think I overthought it,” she said. After further research, she said that she understood why the court ruled as it did.
Delaware Circuit Judge Marianne Vorhees, 53, said some of the things she most would enjoy about serving are also some that are the least enjoyable.
Vorhees noted her work for 10 years with the Board of Law Examiners as an example. “I really had a passion for that,” she said. “On the other hand, it's not always happy because not everyone can pass that bar.”
It's also never easy to inform someone that a character fitness issue means they may not practice, she said.
Vorhees noted that Delaware County was the second in the state to form a unified court system in which courts are funded under the same budget and operate under the same rules.
“We have to sit around and work together, and we make decisions together,” she explained. She quipped that the Delaware County unified court system, like the Supreme Court, has five judges.
For Vorhees, fairness is the top characteristic for a judge. “To me, that's the highest compliment a judge can have – you're fair.”
Asked by Dickson how often juries get decisions correct, Vorhees answered 99 percent of the time. But she noted one verdict that surprised her – when a woman who put her hand in a lion cage sued the property owner after the lion bit off part of the woman's thumb.
Vorhees said she thought, “There's no way a jury's going to give a lady $35,000 for sticking her hand in a lion's cage, but they did.”
The interviews wrapped up around 4 p.m. Tuesday and will start again at 9 a.m. Tuesday. The interviews are scheduled to end Wednesday just after noon. Then, the commission will narrow down the number of applicants.
Allen Superior Court Judge Frances M. Gull, 53, said the ability to be part of a court of last resort was the thing she'd most look forward to if appointed to the Indiana Supreme Court.
“I think the thing I enjoy most about being on the court is having the opportunity to create legal history,” Gull said, calling herself “a rule of law person.”
The thing that she might like least, she said, is the sometimes solitary nature of being a Supreme Court justice. “As a gregarious person I find that somewhat difficult,” Gull said. She would no longer necessarily experience the common happening of being recognized and greeting people she frequently encounters.
She stressed her experience overseeing the Allen County criminal division that includes six courts and more than 50 employees as something that would be helpful when working with the court's myriad administrative responsibilities. Gull also serves on various court committees, including the JTAC executive committee. Gull said listening carefully is important for judges, as is understanding cases. “To that human being standing in front of me, that's the most important thing in their life.”
Commission member Bill Winingham asked about Gull's experience trying more than 400 cases as deputy prosecutor in a span of eight years. “There were a couple of times where I had a trial every day,” Gull said.
Geoffrey G. Slaughter, 49, a partner with Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP, said part of the bread and butter of his work is researching, reading and writing – and he would apply that experience at the Supreme Court by “deciding those cases as well as deciding which cases the court will decide.”
Slaughter said he would welcome the opportunity to have such input, and would welcome the opportunity to be “the public face for what the court does.” He said he would bring hard work, a commitment to excellence and would build on the national reputation the Indiana Supreme Court has gained for quality of decision and civility.
What he would least enjoy, he said, was intervening in disciplinary cases, but he credited the Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program for its work “not just salvaging careers, but in saving lives.”
Dickson noted Slaughter's membership in the Federalist Society, and asked how his philosophical or religious views might affect his views from the bench.
“My training is in the law,” Slaughter said. “I understand what it is to interpret statutes … I'm not a theologian.
“The obligation of a judge, it seems to me, first and foremost is the intention of those who drafted the document in question,” he said.
Abigail Lawless Kuzma, 56, director of consumer protection for the Office of the Indiana Attorney General, said she would bring strong experience as an administrator and a public face to the court. “I enjoy that a lot,” she said. Visioning and strategic planning also were strong suits, she said.
Kuzma has administered a staff of more than 100 people in the attorney general's office, including 32 attorneys and multimillion-dollar budgets.
“I have to say having the opportunity to examine cases and analyze the law, that's the most exciting thing to me,” Kuzma said.
Dickson questioned how Kuzma had honed skilled in developing evidence and dealing with judges and adversaries, and she said her prior work with the Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic and the attorney general's office have given her experience.
“I've had a lot of exposure to difficult judges,” she said, particularly working with the clinic representing low-income people in immigration matters.
Kuzma was asked about the importance of diversity, and she said the court has acknowledged the importance of diversity, but could use a woman. “As a woman, I would have different skill sets to add to the discussion and the analysis of the court,” she said. “On the other hand, the person has to be qualified and that's the first measure you're going to look at.”
Andrielle M. Metzel, 42, a partner at Benesch, said her experience working with the firms and agencies that regulate attorney and judicial conduct is her passion, and she's committed herself to that work for years.
“It's difficult to associate the word 'enjoy' with that,” she explained, but she said the court spends an ample amount of time on such cases, and her experience is suited to that work.
Metzel said the most challenging aspect of serving on the Supreme Court for her would be serving as a court of last resort for people facing death penalty cases or sentences of life in prison without the opportunity for parole.
“I have an appreciation for the administrative responsibility of the court,” she said, noting the leadership of the Judicial Technology and Automation Committee and continuing legal education that is a responsibility for the court.
“Fairness is probably one of the first characteristics that comes to mind,” Metzel said of the demeanor needed in a justice, adding that collegiality was also important. “I'm not a scorched-Earth attorney,” she said.
She said justices also should be independent. “It's not a popularity contest; it's the rule of law.”
Metzel said colleagues from other states see Indiana's judiciary as a model of civil administration of justice. “They look to our Supreme Court with a great amount of deference,” she said.
Asked about her greatest professional accomplishment, Metzel cited her involvement in the Leadership Development Academy that just graduated its first class of 25 attorneys. “Sometimes when you are trying to inspire others, you inspire yourself,” she said.
Johnson Circuit Court Juvenile Magistrate Marla K. Clark, 40, said the overarching quality of an appellate judge is leadership. She said her work has given her real-world trial court management and administration experience.
Clark said her work ethic and the results she's gotten in Johnson County are noteworthy. She said the juvenile recidivism rate has been reduced to 16 percent; juvenile detention has been halved, and case processing time has been reduced from 85 days to 37 days.
“That's a phenomenal improvement and benefit to the citizens of Johnson County,” she said.
Clark said she believes her youth works to her advantage, particularly in terms of how she incorporates technology. She also noted that she was about the same age as the current chief justice and former Chief Randall Shepard at the time of their appointments.
Collegiality, ability to clearly communicate, and “obedience” were important qualities in a Supreme Court justice, she added. “They don't make the facts, the facts come to them. They don't create the law, the law comes to them.”