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IndyBar: Get to Know the Justice: Hon. Geoffrey G. Slaughter Opens Up about the Supreme Court and Professionalism

September 7, 2016

 

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It’s a big change: transitioning directly from private practice to the Indiana Supreme Court. One could only imagine the differences between the two positions, so we recently connected with Indiana’s newest Supreme Court Justice, Hon. Geoffrey G. Slaughter, to talk about exactly what the experience has been like. See the interview with the Justice below.

Justice Slaughter will present the keynote address at the upcoming IndyBar Professionalism Luncheon on Sept. 27. The luncheon will honor the 2016 recipients of the Silver Gavel and Professionalism Awards, Chief Judge Richard Young of the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Indiana, and John Trimble of Lewis Wagner LLP, respectively. You can register for the luncheon at indybar.org/events.

What compelled you to become a Supreme Court Justice?

Before I joined the Court, my legal practice was largely an appellate/motion-type practice—with lots of reading, researching, analyzing, and writing. I thoroughly enjoyed working with smart colleagues in helping to craft legal arguments in support of a client’s position. And in the appellate courts, those arguments often brought to bear important policy considerations. I applied to serve on our Supreme Court in hopes of combining many of these same interests in furthering the rule of law.

Have there been any surprises since transitioning from a law firm to the Court?

I was privileged to litigate in our Supreme Court for more than 20 years as a practicing attorney. So when I joined the Court, I was already familiar with many of its customs, practices, and procedures. But what I didn’t expect – and what’s been the biggest surprise to date – is how much of the Court’s time is spent on matters other than deciding cases. The Court is implementing significant administrative reforms, including adopting a business model for running our state judiciary. In addition to hiring a chief financial officer, we recently appointed a chief administrative officer to oversee the hundreds of employees who help the Court carry out our supervisory responsibilities over the state judiciary and the practice of law in Indiana. We’re revising Admission and Discipline Rule 23 in hopes of streamlining the disciplinary process for attorneys charged with wrongdoing. We’re implementing significant technological changes, not just for our appellate courts but also our trial courts. Our Court expects to be paperless over the coming months. We review approximately 1,000 transfer petitions every year. The ability to access all the filings in a case, including the transcript, on a computer or portable tablet will make us more efficient. And we expect all trial courts in Indiana will have adopted e-filing by the end of 2018.

How are you fitting in to the new environment?

My new colleagues have been very kind and welcoming, as you’d expect. And they’ve also been very patient as I grow into my new responsibilities. I’d like to think I’m fitting in well. But I hope you’ll let me know if you hear anything different.

Aside from duties and responsibilities, what’s been the biggest difference between being an attorney and a Justice?

The biggest difference – and for me, the biggest challenge – has been taking off my litigator’s hat and transitioning to my new role as a judge. For more than 25 years, I was an advocate, urging that courts adopt my clients’ view of things, because I was their lawyer, and that was my job. I’ve found it takes time to shed those instincts altogether. Now my most solemn obligation is upholding the rule of law.

You’ve now had the chance to interact with Justices who have very different ideologies. How have you dealt with those differences?

It’s certainly true that all five of us bring different perspectives to the Court, no doubt reflecting our different life and professional experiences. I’ve been struck by three early observations. The first is that far more unites us than divides us. Second, the inevitable differences that do arise don’t necessarily divide along the line-ups you might expect. And, third, each Justice is well intentioned and motivated by a commitment to doing the right thing. We don’t always agree what that is. But I have no doubt of the sincerity of my colleagues’ views when we disagree. We meet regularly in our weekly conferences. I’ve not heard a Justice raise his or her voice or say an unkind word about a colleague. And that reflects not just our respect for each other, but also our respect for the institution.

Do you have any general advice for demonstrating professionalism?

This may sound trite, but the best advice I can offer lawyers is to treat others – whether one’s colleagues, clients, or adversaries – the same way they want to be treated. In law as in life, being kind and respectful of others goes a long way.•
 

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