Two trial court judges with a breadth of experience hearing criminal and civil matters and a public defender who’s tried hundreds of appeals are finalists to be the next Indiana Court of Appeals judge.
Marion Superior Judge Robert R. Altice Jr., Wabash Superior Judge Christopher M. Goff and Marion County public defender Patricia C. McMath prevailed from eight candidates interviewed June 10 by the Indiana Judicial Nominating Commission.
For Altice and McMath, it’s the second time they’ve been finalists for appointment to the appellate bench. Both of their names were forwarded as finalists to Gov. Mitch Daniels in 2012, when he appointed Judge Rudolph R. Pyle III to the COA.
Gov. Mike Pence has 60 days after officially receiving the list of finalists to make his first appointment to the appellate bench. The person selected will replace Judge Ezra Friedlander, who will retire from the court in August.
Here’s a look at what Altice, Goff and McMath told the commission.
Robert R. Altice Jr.
Having served as a judge overseeing major felony cases and a civil docket, Altice recalled being reversed when one of his first criminal trials on the bench went to the Court of Appeals. It was a learning experience. “You call balls and strikes” as a judge, he said. “You’re not the pitcher.”
Altice cited his work with now-COA Judge Cale Bradford leading the Marion Superior Executive Committee in expanding the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative as an innovation that made a difference, cutting by more than half the number of juveniles in detention.
He said Indiana had been locking up too many youths for minor offenses and that the JDAI initiative is now available to about 75 percent of youths statewide.
Altice also said he’d like to see a judicial performance commission in Indiana that evaluates the work of trial court and appellate judges and makes recommendations on retention. He’s seen how a model program works in Colorado to weed out judges whose performance is rated negatively by lawyers, jurors and litigants who appear before them.
When asked about the value of oral arguments, Altice said he’s found them useful in his court and for the COA. “I can read all the briefs I want,” he said, but it’s helpful to be able to question attorneys who argue before him.
Altice was also asked about what he would like his legacy to be. He said some 30 to 40 interns have worked in his court over the years. “What I hope my legacy is, is that I’ve been a great mentor for law students and young lawyers,” he said.
Christopher M. Goff
The lone candidate from outside metro Indianapolis, Wabash Superior Judge Christopher Goff said serving as a lawyer and judge in a small county would be an advantage if appointed to the Court of Appeals since he’s tried about every kind of case in 15 years in a court of general jurisdiction.
He said his courthouse staff in Wabash is underfunded and overworked, but they innovate and serve the community well. “I think the way we do things in Wabash County is a model of how we administer justice in a small county.”
Goff said problem-solving courts in his county have proved effective in reducing recidivism and helping people get over drug abuse and reuniting families. Recounting a case in which a child was being raised by drug-abusing parents, Goff said through problem-solving courts the parents saw a paradigm shift.
“They started seeing us not as someone who was out to get them, but as someone who was out to help them,” he said. The parents turned their lives around and are working, productive members of the community. “I can tell you with some degree of confidence (their child) is now in a good home.”
Goff said he would plan to move to Indianapolis if selected for the court, and he would focus on building relationships with the court and seek out other opportunities to serve in various ways.
When asked about his legacy, Goff said he has hoped to leave every place he’s been a better place than it was before, and that would be the same if selected for the Court of Appeals. He said he would hope in a few decades to leave the court with people believing, “Indiana is, in fact, a place where people have confidence in the judiciary.”
Patricia C. McMath
Marion County public defender Patricia McMath said her voluminous experience of having tried hundreds of cases to the appellate bench and a level of mutual respect between her and judges would enable her to easily transition to the court, if appointed.
“I would have credibility immediately with the other judges on the Court of Appeals,” she said. “There wouldn’t be a whole lot of getting to know each other.”
Several commission members asked whether McMath’s vast experience in criminal cases may limit her in hearing the broad array of cases that come before the court. But she noted prior experience in transactional and bankruptcy law.
“As a judge, it’s not substantive law that is your skill set, it’s the ability to see the issues and understand what the issues and ramifications are,” she said.
McMath said she’s worked with bar associations to make sure professionalism was stressed in continuing legal education, and she’s been a consensus builder. She would try to do that as a COA judge, she said. Bringing access and representation to low-income and pro se litigants also is something she hopes to facilitate.
On the legacy question, McMath noted the Court of Appeals’ mission statement, “To serve all people by providing equal justice under law.” She said, “I would tack on to that mission statement, ‘We do it with civility and professionalism.’”
Here are highlights from the five other candidates’ interviews:
Bryan L. Ciyou
The Ciyou & Dixon P.C. attorney said he’s most noted for family law and firearms law and educating the public in these areas. He said as a judge, he’d work to educate the public about the judiciary. Ciyou also said he’d explore use of Anders briefs in some criminal cases and the possibility of five-judge “superpanels”in divisive cases. “If I’m appointed to the Court of Appeals, I have an incredible work ethic and I will do my best to understand the process … and any efficiencies that can be gained.”
Stephen R. Creason
The Indiana deputy attorney general told the commission he would bring a conservative approach to reviewing cases that come before the Indiana Court of Appeals. “The role of courts in society should be limited,” he said, especially appellate courts. This, he said, “leaves a lot of room for the democratic branches to do the job of finding out what society wants.” Creason said he is a quiet leader, team player and early adopter of technology who could help move the court forward.
Gary L. Miller
The Marion Superior judge offered a bit of trickery as an example of innovation. He recalled a case in which young parents of a 3-year-old kept filing petty motions to the point that he threatened to call the Department of Child Services and stormed off the bench. When he returned, the tearful couple had reconciled, he said. “They needed something to get their attention.” Miller urged that more COA opinions be categorized as for publication.
David L. Pippen
The Bose McKinney & Evans LLP partner has had a successful career in private practice and as general counsel to former Gov. Mitch Daniels. The Court of Appeals, he said, “has a fabulous reputation throughout the country and I want to be a part of that.” He said it was important for private practitioners to be appointed to the bench, noting Friedlander was among just four of 15 on the COA. He said he’d strive for equitable and consistent opinions, and “to be seen as a judge that engaged.”
Joel M. Schumm
The Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law professor highlighted his prolific writing, research and establishment of the Appellate Practice Institute in making his case for appointment to the court. Because COA opinions often will be the final word on legal issues, he said, “The most important thing the Court of Appeals can do is bring stability and predictability to lawyers and litigants in the state of Indiana.”•