Interviews conclude for Supreme Court applicants

The last of 29 applicants for a pending vacancy on the Indiana Supreme Court were interviewed Friday by the Indiana Judicial Nomination Commission, which is deliberating to reduce the number for a second round of interviews. Those semifinalists are to be announced Friday.

Here are highlights of Friday’s interviews:

Bryce D. Owens, Owens and Owens, Pendleton
Owens said if appointed to the court he would carefully consider cases that came before it and apply precedent, but not without considering the times and circumstances. He said looking back on some past decisions lawyers wonder, “how in the world could they have decided that?”

Owens said his real-world experience sets him apart. “I think that the wide variety of things I’ve worked on in my career give me more breadth of experience than possibly some other people may bring to the court,” he said. He also cited his involvement in a title company as an asset in helping the court deal with administrative duties.

Chief Justice Loretta Rush asked Owens about his work regarding the duties and responsibilities of school resource officers. “We have these people who are the inherent face of law enforcement,” Owens said, “and they also have these duties within the school to enforce school rules.” He said that’s created a situation in which officers have “complimentary but inconsistent responsibilities.”

Judge Kit C. Crane, Henry Circuit Court 2, New Castle
Crane was lauded for his work as a judge advocate general who represented detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He said his time in that capacity briefly overlapped similar duties carried out by now-Justice Steven David. “Our role down there was not popular,” Crane said, “but whatever the circumstances are, it’s important to preserve the rule of law.”

Having worked as a prosecutor prior to his election as judge, he said he consulted with friends who’d been prosecutors and were elected as judges in nearby counties. “My whole life, I’ve just tried to be fair,” Crane said. “How would I want to be treated? That’s how I try to treat both sides when they appear in my courtroom.” Asked about his judicial philosophy, Crane cited Alexander Hamilton: “Judges are not supposed to say what the law ought to be, judges are to say what the law is.”

State courts have to work smarter, Crane said, and he noted Henry County has been a leader in going paperless and embracing technology, which will soon include e-filing. He said there have been cases in which clients have learned of decisions before their lawyers by finding rulings online. He also said he would “be willing to roll up my sleeves and do whatever the chief justice asks me to do.”

Magistrate Judge Paul R. Cherry, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, Hammond
Cherry thought he would continue his role as a federal magistrate judge for the rest of his life, but he said he considers the opportunity to be appointed to the Indiana Supreme Court a grand way to expand his more than 27 years on the state and federal bench. “I think it’s the right thing for my career at this point,” he said.

The DeKalb County native said he would bring a “deep well of experience” not just from his years on the bench but also as a private practitioner and prosecutor before that. If selected to the court, he said he would “laser focus on fact, laser point on the law and try not to make a broader decision than I need to. … No judge should be using a case and a decision to expand rights that aren’t there or apply social philosophy,” he said.

Cherry said he had given consideration to how he would move from his current role in in which cases are decided in isolation to a court of five. “I think I can adjust and adapt to that,” he said, noting his work on the board of directors of Huntington College. “We all have views and opinions and I would be able to defend my position on a particular case if I were on the Supreme Court, but I would carefully listen to the other justices.”

Rep. Thomas W. Washburne, Old National Bancorp, Evansville
Washburne was asked how his elected office as a state representative and his role as corporate counsel for an Indiana bank would allow him to bring unique credentials if appointed to the court. “I think being in the General Assembly is an interesting experience for a lawyer because you find yourself being a lawyer to a lot of people,” he said. “When you’re an in-house lawyer, you’re dealing first hand with the impacts decisions have on people.”

Out of law school, Washburne clerked for federal Judge S. Hugh Dillin, who one commission member noted was far from a strict constructionist in interpreting law. But Washburne said his judicial philosophy is closer to that of late U.S. Justice Antonin Scalia: “For me, you look at it and say, if you’re going to understand the relationship between the government and the people, you have to understand these words mean something,” he said. “I would be strict constructionist, and I tend to be an originalist, too.”

Washburne said courts have done a good job expanding technology, but more can be done. He said if appointed to the court, he and his family would relocate to the Indianapolis area from southwest Indiana. He would hope people would say of his service that he was “fair, honest, well-reasoned, and cared deeply about the country.”

Indiana Solicitor General Thomas M. Fisher, Indianapolis
Fisher is a familiar face arguing cases for the state before appellate courts, and Chief Justice Loretta Rush commended the quality of his advocacy while also asking about the vastly different role if he were appointed to the court. “As an advocate, you have to be partisan in the litigation sense,” Fisher said, adding he would welcome the ability to read both sides of a case and apply the law. “It’s a much better way for me to think about the law.”

Having argued before the U.S. Supreme Court three times in state cases, Fisher was asked how he prepares. “I cloister myself in the office, lock the door and ignore phone calls,” he said. “It’s a very intense process.” He said lawyers need to know the record, what happened in lower courts, and “you really have to pare it back to first principles.”

Fisher said he’s drawn to the study and teaching of constitutional law because of its impact on how government operates balanced against individual liberties. Asked about the problem of unrepresented litigants, he said federal courts have developed a handbook for pro se litigants outlining what they can expect and explaining the process. Regarding his judicial philosophy, he said, “I consider myself an originalist and a textualist. … Words need to be understood to have a fixed meaning.”

Lyle R. Hardman, Hunt Suedhoff Kalamaros LLP, South Bend
Hardman said his nearly 25 years of private practice on a range of civil matters from liability to employment litigation and well as serving on committees that run his 60-member firm give him a good combination of experiences that would be unique for the court. “As a trial lawyer I do fairly complex litigation,” he said, often dealing with both plaintiff and defense counsel on how cases should proceed. “I think that will help me with consensus building.”

Describing himself as a textualist, he said there should be constraints on the interpretation of texts and statutes. “Collegiality is an important factor; it has to be an important factor for the court,” he said. That’s not always the case in Michigan, where Hardman also is licensed to practice. “Everybody in this room would be appalled about the name calling and politicking going on there,” he said, blaming this on direct partisan election of judges statewide. “I think all judges in Indiana should be merit selected,” he said, as they are in St. Joseph County.

Hardman said his work on the Indiana State Bar Association Legal Ethics Committee has been rewarding and meaningful, addressing questions fellow attorneys have that haven’t been addressed by courts. He said courts are necessarily embracing technology and that the judiciary needs more funding to deal with increasing case loads.

Karen A. Wyle, Karen A. Wyle Law Office, Bloomington
Wyle was the only one of 29 applicants asked about whether President Barak Obama should nominate a successor to late Justice Antonin Scalia. “I think he’s entitled to make the nomination. I don’t believe he should expect that nominee to be approved in an election year with a divided government,” she said. She was also asked about her personal use of social media. She said she posts on Facebook, Twitter and other social media, sometimes things of a political nature and other times to try to assist fellow writers.

An appellate attorney whose work focuses on family law and grandparental visitation issues, Wyle noted she has been an advocate for those issues at the Statehouse in the past but would be able to set those passions aside if appointed to the court. “I’m fairly good at discussing things with people without acrimony,” she said. “You’d have a hard time finding any enemies I’ve made in my practice.”

Asked why she wanted to serve on the Supreme Court, the Harvard Law grad said, “It seems to be the dream job. … It’s a chance to take part in safeguarding constitutional rights and developing Indiana case law.” She said she would not be a strict constructionist and there should be limits on deference in interpreting the law, but she described her judicial philosophy as closer to that view than "the living Constitution view."
Judge Steven R. Nation, Hamilton Superior Court 1, Noblesville
Nation said as a judge he’s always tried to build consensus and treat those who appear before him with respect. He said he also has administrative experience that would benefit the court. “When people are there in front of the court, they must feel you are fair and listen to them and give them an opportunity to speak,” he said. “I can guarantee you your day in court, I can guarantee you a fair hearing, and I will follow the law.”

Prior to his time on the bench, Nation was a prosecutor, starting when Hamilton County was a jurisdiction of 60,000, compared to its present population of almost 300,000. He said he had a close relationship with law enforcement: “I wanted to be involved in every big crime. I never wanted to look at a family and say, ‘Sorry, the police blew this.’” He said it’s as important that people in towns such as Cicero and Atlanta have access to the same level of public services as people in Carmel or Fishers.

In 10 years, Nation said he would be a couple of years from mandatory retirement, but he would intend to serve on the court until then if appointed. He said he’s most comfortable sitting around a table with lawyers solving problems. “My main desire is that we have a duty, each one of us, to pass on to the next generation this rule of law, and I want to do that for my grandson,” he said.

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