The Indiana Supreme Court’s five justices traveled to Corydon Wednesday to hear arguments in a modern case presented in the original Supreme Court courtroom built for just three justices. The event was part of the celebration of the state’s bicentennial and also was Justice Brent Dickson’s final oral argument.
The court is using the event as an educational opportunity, teaming up with the Indiana Department of Education, the Indiana State Bar Association and the local bars of Clark, Crawford, Floyd, Harrison and Scott counties. Students from around the state will view the webcasted arguments in F. John Rogers, et al. v. Angela Martin, et al., 02S05-1603-CT-114.
Paul Michalik died after attending a birthday party in 2010 hosted by Brian Brothers and Angela Martin. The two found Michalik unconscious in their basement; Brothers and another man carried Michalik out of the house, but police later found him dead in the yard. The Allen Superior Court ruled in favor of the hosts in a Dram Shop Act lawsuit brought by Michalik’s estate, but the Court of Appeals reversed in December.
Before the arguments, Chief Justice Loretta Rush paid tribute to Dickson, the second-longest serving justice in Indiana history. She noted the longest-serving justice, Isaac Blackford, sat in this same courtroom and heard cases from 1817 until 1853. She also spoke of the court’s longstanding mission.
“While much has changed in the last 200 years, the courts’ mandate stays the same: carry out a constitutional mission of protecting individual rights and liberties, upholding and interpreting the rule of law and providing fair hearings without delay in every single one of the 1.3 million cases that came before the court last year,” she said.
Wednesday’s case was the first time Jane Malloy, counsel for Angela Martin, had argued before the Indiana Supreme Court.
“It felt more like a discussion because we were so close,” Malloy said, referencing the small size of the courtroom. “It was much more intimate and it was a wonderful experience. I’ve been practicing law for 30 years and I would have to say this is the highlight of my career.”
Although Rush noted before the arguments that Wednesday’s event was like the court’s “Super Bowl,” Dickson said afterwards that the day was like any other in terms of doing his job.
“We’ve done this often – for me, over 1,400 times,” he said. “The oral argument was real. It involved real people, and for me, the concerns were what is this case about, what are the legal issues and how does it affect the lives of these people involved.”
He called the historic courthouse “inspirational,” and said there’s something “very special about knowing the history of this building for 200 years. The one big difference is that I don’t walk off the bench in Indianapolis sweating.”
Dickson’s last day on the court is April 29. He announced in November he was retiring from the bench. He noted that he is not sure if he will participate in the final decision on the Michalik case as it depends if the justices can reach a decision before his last day.
The justices also were involved in the dedication of a historic marker noting the Polly Strong case. The Indiana Supreme Court ruled in 1820 in Lasselle v. State that Polly Strong, who was a black slave in Vincennes, should be set free.