Judges and attorneys from around Indiana gathered together Wednesday to honor a member of the Indiana Supreme Court family who they say is the reason the court has operated effectively and efficiently for the last 40 years.
Lilly Judson immigrated to the United States from Bulgaria when she was 12 years old and went on to build a nearly 40-year career in the Division of State Court Administration. Past and present Supreme Court justices, judges of the Indiana Court of Appeals and other members of the judiciary gathered in the Supreme Court courtroom to bid farewell to Judson, who retired last month.
“I did not dream of becoming a court administrator,” Judson said as she addressed the packed courtroom on Wednesday. “But this job has been the most challenging, rewarding, exciting career that any lawyer could ever wish.”
After graduating from Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law in 1975 and passing the bar as one of the first students allowed to take an early bar exam, Judson began her legal career as executive secretary for the Judicial Study Commission, Judicial Nominating Commission, the Commission on Judicial Qualifications and the Judicial Conference in 1976. Judson then became the assistant director of the Indiana Division of State Court Administration until 1986, when was promoted to director. She became exeuctive director in 1997.
Judson served as interim chief administrative officer beginning in May 2015, a position she used to help transition the court to a more efficient and transparent internal organizational structure in anticipation of her retirement. Chief Justice Loretta Rush told Judson and the crowd of well-wishers that Judson’s leadership in the transition to a new organizational system would be her lasting legacy in the state judiciary.
Rush also told Judson that her work in the court administration office had impacted the lives of all judges and justices across the state, both past and present, and would continue to have a positive impact for years to come.
“You were a huge part of my judicial journey,” Rush said.
Among the other guests at Wednesday’s reception was Mark Ahearn, counsel to Gov. Mike Pence. Ahearn pointed to Article 1, Section 12 of the Indiana Constitution, which requires that state courts administer justice “freely, and without purchase; completely, and without denial; speedily, and without delay.” The work and initiatives Judson put into her place during her 40 years with the judiciary enabled the state courts to operate in accordance with the constitution, Ahearn said.
To recognize her efforts, Ahearn, on behalf of the governor, named Judson a Sagamore of the Wabash, an honor that earned her a standing ovation from everyone in the courtroom.
“This is totally unexpected,” Judson said.
Vicki Carmichael, Clark County judge and secretary and treasurer of the Indiana Judges Association, also presented Judson with a black robe similar to a judicial robe to mark her retirement, a gift that the retiring court administrator put on and did not take off for the rest of the ceremony.
“Finally,” Judson said when she put the robe on.
Indiana Supreme Court Justice Steve David also presented Judson with a gift – a specialized Indiana Supreme Court challenge coin, a blue and gold medallion engraved with the Indiana Supreme Court insignia to honor Judson’s efforts for the courts and the challenges she overcame to help the court succeed. Judson’s coin was the first one ever made for the state Supreme Court.
The final gift presented in Judson’s honor was a special edition of the Indiana Court Times magazine, which she helped to compile and edit. The special edition of the magazine that was distributed Wednesday was a tribute to Judson’s personal life and career with the court, filled with pictures and memories from her 40-year career.
As she addressed the crowd, Judson said she was overwhelmed by the love and praise she received during the ceremony.
Although she did not foresee her lengthy career with the Indiana judiciary when she was just starting out in the legal field, Judson said her time with the Supreme Court was rewarding and filled with friends and memories that will stay with her into retirement.
“As a 12-year-old immigrant transplant from Bulgaria who didn’t speak English, I think I’ve lived the epitome of the American dream,” she said.