A dozen lawyers and judges made their pitches for appointment to the Indiana Supreme Court Thursday as the Judicial Nominating Commission concluded the second of three days of interviews with 29 applicants.
Here are highlights from applicants interviewed Thursday afternoon:
Judge Steven L. Hostetler, St. Joseph Superior Court, South Bend
Hostetler said his nearly three years on the bench preceded by 15 years as a practicing lawyer representing businesses working through insolvency and bankruptcy give him a unique perspective that includes agricultural issues and “all kinds of economic issues facing businesses in our state.”
He said it’s important that courts not intervene in some cases, such as one in which issues of a mosque’s religious doctrine was disputed. “We can’t get involved in deciding every dispute that comes up between congregants,” he said. “We stay out of those kind of things and let people address their religious disputes.”
Hostetler enjoys mentoring young lawyers and new lawyers and said “it’s very important we do that – more mature lawyers try to mentor young lawyers, especially those trying to get out and hang a shingle.” He said if he were selected to the court, he would work on problems and interpret law conservatively. “It’s the language of the statute that matters the most,” he said. “The Legislature says what it means and means what it says.”
Eugene N. Chipman Jr., Marshall County Prosecutor’s Office, Plymouth
Chipman touted his experience as a municipal attorney in Elkhart and Plymouth, as well as his work as a prosecutor, as reasons why he felt the time was right to apply to be a Supreme Court justice. He passed up previous chances, he said. “Now I’m peaking. I’m going to be 62 in March, a lot of my colleagues and peers have more of an eye on retirement. I know I’ve got a good 13, 14 years of things to offer.”
Chipman said he embraces technology as it comes, though he quipped he initially thought “this Internet stuff was a passing fad” when he sent his first email. Now, though, he noted he’s purchased drones for the office and is working to clarify statutes on their use by law enforcement so they may be used to photograph crash scenes, for instance. He said current law forbids use of drones by law enforcement without a warrant.
Asked the word that best describes him, Chipman said, “Better. … I like to think through my years I have helped others, colleagues, interns and staff be better at what they do, and when they do that, they make me better.” He said his judicial philosophy would mirror that of late Justice Antonin Scalia’s concept of originalism – “I would stand by the words of the Constitution and the text of the statutes.”
Leanna K. Weissmann, Lawrenceburg
Weissmann was praised for her advocacy before the Supreme Court by Chief Justice Loretta Rush. Weismann said her diverse background, including clerking for then-Court of Appeals Judge Robert Rucker, working as a public defender, magistrate and as a member of the Indiana Disciplinary Commission, would allow her to “bring a little bit of everything to the table.”
If appointed to the court, she said she would look at the intent of the Framers and stick to their intent in interpreting law. “I do have a passion for helping people,” said Weissmann, who also teaches young students at Ivy Tech. “I would use that passion for educating our kids about the law and what lawyers do. … It’s difficult sometimes when you have to teach 19-year-olds what the Constitution is.”
Weissmann said she tends to be a consensus-builder and does so in her work with the Disciplinary Commission. She also works with the Public Defender Council and said a key issue facing courts is funding. Trial courts, she said, “have a lot more work than they are funded to take” and she said courts must do more to deal with litigants with mental illness and people who lack access to justice.
Judge Frances C. Gull, Allen Superior Court, Fort Wayne
Gull was recognized by Chief Justice Loretta Rush as a statewide leader in judicial reform and problem-solving courts. Given the opportunity to serve on the Supreme Court, Gull said she would hope to build on those efforts. She said she tells drug court participants, for instance, “I want to catch you doing something good.” The court offers “fishbowl moments” marking milestones in program completion by allowing participants to draw for small prizes from a fishbowl.
“I’ve been involved in committee work of the judiciary for many, many years, and I would like to take that to the state level,” Gull said. She said she would work toward “making sure every citizen in state of Indian has access to problem-solving courts” such as drug and veteran courts. She also said public defenders are underpaid and she would reach out to law school students to get them interested in pro bono and public service work.
Gull said a justice needs to be meticulous, respectful, courteous, and kind while also capable of handling the many administrative duties charged to the court. As for her judicial philosophy, she said, “I’m a rules follower. I’m a rule of law individual … The Legislature creates the laws and I interpret and apply the law to the facts.” She said as a prosecutor or judge, she’s never seen a jury that she believed got it wrong.
Judge Darrin M. Dolehanty, Wayne Superior Court 3, Richmond
Dolehanty’s work advocating for representation for juvenile offenders was praised by Chief Justice Loretta Rush, but he said it was she who deserved credit for making it happen. “The long and short of it is, it’s the right thing to do,” he said, noting that unlike adults, it can’t be argued in good faith that a juvenile has waived a right to a lawyer. “This makes perfect sense.”
Asked why he wanted to be on the Supreme Court, Dolehanty said, “In my world, who wouldn’t? … I want more, I want different, I want to give it a whirl at seeing if I can ply my skills at a much higher level with higher stakes.” He said his training and competition as a duathlete would translate into serving on the Supreme Court. “Discipline comes to mind first of all, and commitment. You don’t get into those activities without preparation,” he said. “It the same for the sport as it is for our profession.”
Dolehanty said he’s grateful to serve on a strategic planning committee for the court. Asked about the most important attribute in a justice, he said patience. “With patience, all the other issues can be resolved,” he said. It’s also important “to be open-minded to the considered opinions of your colleagues.” He said he would bring civility, leadership and collegiality to the bench if appointed.
Elizabeth C. Green, Riley Bennett & Egloff LLP, Indianapolis
Green, the second-youngest applicant at age 38, was asked about her youth and also lauded for the quality of referrals in her application. Green said she would provide “the perspective of young partners in private practice” and that she would “be able to bring a sense of continuity to the court and serve as a bridge to the future.” As did retiring Justice Brent Dickson, she said she would be positioned to serve on the court for decades.
She said she was urged by many people to apply for the vacancy and that she “knew without doubt my internal compass was pointing in this direction.” While her legal work is largely transactional and Green has little courtroom experience, she said her competence in transactional work and technology would be an asset to the court, particularly at the advent of commercial courts around the state.
Green said it’s important that law be predictable and consistent, she would welcome the opportunity to research, think and write, and would bring integrity and respect. “One thing I’ve learned over the past 10 years is how to learn, and that’s not going to stop,” she said.
Here are highlights from Thursday morning’s applicants:
Judge James R. Ahler, Jasper Superior Court, Rensselaer
Ahler said his work on the Public Defender Commission gave him insight into the needs of indigent clients and said the state should examine options to the current county-by-county system that’s been under assault by lawsuits filed around the state.
“One option is to continue and develop it as it is or totally look outside the box to a more statewide public defender system,” he said. While the state has made significant strides in fitting attorneys with their expertise in representing criminal litigants, he said the variable quality of service between counties is a matter the state must address.
Ahler highlighted his mix of experience – more than eight years as a trial court judge hearing a variety of cases preceded by a diverse practice with an emphasis on business law, and clerking for two judges on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. “I think I understand courts, and I understand lawyers and judges from big cities down to our smallest of counties.”
Judge Sally A. McLaughlin, Dearborn Superior Court 2, Lawrenceburg
McLaughlin said her unusual path to a career in the law preceded by a career as a nurse and nursing administrator led her to not be sure she was qualified to serve on the Supreme Court until just the past week or so. “I’m a person who has gained a lot of strength through¬¬¬ a lot of adverse situations that have given me strength, a sense of humor and tenacity,” she said.
McLaughlin said she would bring to the bench “a certain humility, very strong work ethic, and a desire to make an impact on the profession of law” as an educator, mentor, and someone who can help shape the profession. She spoke about a leadership in law program she developed with the local attorneys, state police and others in which students spend a week on a case from crime scene to mock trial.
She said her medical background would be an asset on the court, including her administrative experience in that field, as would her prior legal work as a prosecutor and private practitioner. Asked about her judicial philosophy, she invoked President Abraham Lincoln’s words from his second inaugural address – “with malice toward none and charity toward all.”
Judge Matthew C. Kincaid, Boone Superior Court 1, Lebanon
Kincaid, the son of a long-serving Boone County judge, said his desire to enter the legal profession was informed by discussions around the home in his youth about matters that came before the court. “These were the kinds of questions that were always talked about,” he said. “I was just always instilled with a respect for lawyers and a respect for the law that made it a natural conclusion for me to study law.”
Prior to serving on the bench, Kincaid was a practitioner with Riley Bennett & Egloff LLP in Indianapolis, and he said over time he’s come to see his judicial philosophy as one of judicial conservatism distinguished from political conservatism. At pretrial conferences, he said he tells litigants what the trial date is then says, “I’m here if you need me. … We’re there to decide when people can’t decide for themselves.”
Kincaid, 45, said he applied for the Supreme Court vacancy now after opting to wait in prior opportunities. With 13 years’ experience on the bench, he said he would look forward to writing in collaboration with justices and take on any administrative duties asked of him. “I’m not too old, and I’m not too young,” he said.
Jaime M. Oss, Huelat Mack & Kreppein P.C., Michigan City
Oss at 37 is the youngest Supreme Court applicant, and she answered a question about her youth by saying, “I’m at the tail end of Generation X, and it would allow me to give a voice to my generation” and serve as “a bridge between baby boomers and millennials.” She said she’s also tech-savvy and could help that court in that regard. “I think it would be good for the next generation of people and lawyers coming out of law school to see what you are able to do at a fairly young age.”
She said her three years of experience as managing partner of her firm have charged her with responsibilities that would mesh well with the administrative duties of justices, and she looked to the late Justice Antonin Scalia when asked about her judicial philosophy. “Interpretation should be a reasonable interpretation,” she said. “You look to see what the plain meaning of the statute was, and if it’s ambiguous, you look to legislative intent.”
Oss lacked responses to several questions, such as whether Indiana should consider adopting the Uniform Bar Exam and an instance in which she had been persuaded to change her view of a particular matter.
Judge Larry W. Medlock, Washington Circuit Court, Salem
Medlock was asked about one of his hobbies, coin collecting, and his chin quivered a bit as he recounted how this began. “I grew up in a trailer, my mother worked as a clerk in a variety store, and my father worked in a factory,” he said. His grandparents ran a small store and gifted him silver dollars as a child, the first he collected. “It’s tradition. Family. Continuity is very important to me.”
Asked a unique contribution he could bring to the court, Medlock said, “perspective from the south is one thing,” and he minimized differences between hearing cases on the bench in a small county compared to a larger county. “People are people no matter where they’re from, and they have the same problems. … The law applies in all these situations, just on a smaller scale where I’m from.”
The former public defender noted he handily won election running against a former longtime judge and if appointed to the court, he hoped people would say of his tenure, “that I did the right thing, that they can trust me. … I believe I’ve gotten to where I’ve gotten because of the trust people have in me. I believe it’s because of the work I did in the community and I earned the trust of those I represented and the other lawyers.”
John H. Shean, Shean Law Offices, Bloomington
Shean said if appointed to the court he would continue work he’s done volunteering and would be an active justice off the bench in addition to his duties on the court. “My heart and passion is for community and public service and I think my record shows that,” he said. He would seek roles on boards and commissions and help educate the public about the role of the judiciary.
Shean spoke about the volunteer work he’s done with the pro-life Bloomington charity Crisis Pregnancy Center and development of Hannah House Maternity Home for at-risk young mothers and pregnant women. Professionally, he said he’s been most effective before administrative judges in worker’s compensation cases.
If appointed to the court, he said he’d like his legacy to be “passionate about justice and fair in his approach. … You have to allow your commitment and duty to the principles of justice override your passions, and you have to be able to do the right thing, as somebody says, when nobody’s watching.”