On an evening to honor civics education, Indiana Supreme Court Justice Brent Dickson was surprised Sunday with a thank you for his support in teaching the next generation about democracy.
The Indiana Bar Foundation used its 2015 Civics Dinner to present the President’s Award to Dickson for his many years of service to the Supreme Court, the judiciary, the legal profession and the state.
Bruce Jones, associate at Cruser & Mitchell LLP in Indianapolis, told the guests that as one of Dickson’s former law clerks he learned not only how to think more deeply about the law but also how to be a better person. He described Dickson as a man of faith who loves his family and who mentored and challenged his law clerks.
Jones said he still carries those lessons with him and often asks himself what would “Judge,” the law clerks’ nickname for Dickson, do? Dickson has announced he will retire from the court in spring 2016.
Dickson, accompanied by his wife Jan, said he was deeply honored by the award. He then praised the work the bar foundation has done in serving the bar, the judiciary and the citizens of the Indiana. He said the organization’s work in civics education has made a lasting impression on the lives of children, adults and families.
“It inspires all of us in what we can do,” Dickson said. “Thank you not just for this honor but for what you do for civics education every day.”
The Indiana Bar Foundation hosted the annual dinner at Indianapolis’ Union Station as part of the state We the People finals. About 100 people including judges, attorneys and teachers attended the evening event.
Bar Foundation President Geoffrey Slaughter said Dickson has been an ardent supporter of the organization and has advocated not just the civics education programs but also the legal aid assistance provided to the indigent.
On a personal note, Slaughter, partner at Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP, said while he has argued before Dickson, he got to know him more personally when he applied for a vacancy on the state’s Supreme Court in 2012. Slaughter said Dickson was personable and kind as he shepherded the applicants through the selection process.
“You don’t replace somebody of his caliber, you simply succeed him,” Slaughter said. “Those of us who’ve had a chance to work with him, got to know him and appeared before him as lawyers, it has been a real privilege.”
Also Sunday, the bar foundation recognized retired attorney Susan Roberts with the William G. Baker Award. Brown County Schools Superintendent David Shaffer was presented the John J. Patrick Award.
Roberts was honored for her work in the Indiana High School Mock Trial program. Called the “driving force behind Indiana’s mock trial program,” Roberts is credited with making the state’s mock trial competition one of the most successful in the country. She was praised for her volunteer work with the competition and, in particular, for writing an original case and case materials each year for the students.
Roberts was unable to attend the dinner but her friend, Janice Houghton, a faculty sponsor for the mock trial program at Heritage Christian School, read her remarks.
Praising the enthusiasm and energy the students brought to advocating in the cases she wrote, Roberts said she appreciated the hard work and talent of all those involved with the program.
“This award recognition would not have happened without the dedication of the countless teachers, attorneys, judges and most of all the students who shared a part of their lives to make mock trial come to life,” she said. “The students, their teachers and coaches, never cease to amaze me and I share this award with all of them.”
Shaffer was honored for his contributions to citizenship education that includes the support of We the People program at Brown County Junior High School. Along with being a five-time state champion, the team has become a national powerhouse, winning the 2013 and 2014 national middle school invitation and being the 2015 national runner-up.
In accepting the award, Shaffer applauded the We the People program as critical for teaching students about democracy and for spotlighting the good work the public school system can do.
Shaffer was an American history and government teacher before he became a school administrator but he has not lost his passion for teaching. As the Brown County team was preparing Saturday for the state competition, he joined the practice session to help the students. The We the People program teaches young people about civic responsibility and ways they can positively contribute to their communities, he said.
“I think that’s of great value and it’s very important to our country right now,” Shaffer said. “We have too many people who are not knowledgeable about our system.”
Dickson echoed that sentiment, saying the We the People program makes the students better citizens.
“We have such a need for civics education in our country because of the demands of math and other educational needs it’s easy to let history become an unwanted stepchild,” Dickson said. “These kinds of programs are so important because they help develop future generations that know about the separation of powers, know about the history of how our Constitution was put together.”
The sponsors of the dinner and civics education programs were the Indiana State Bar Association; Barnes & Thornburg, LLP; Faegre Baker Daniels, LLP; Taft Stettinius & Hollister, LLP; the Kenneth J. Allen Law Group; and Church Church Hittle & Antrim.