There are three key initiatives that have defined the work of the Indiana judicial branch in the last year — adopting modern technology, ensuring public safety that complements criminal code reform, and supporting Hoosier families. In her third State of the Judiciary address as chief justice of the Indiana Supreme Court, Loretta Rush highlighted how partnerships in the state’s judicial system are serving to further those initiatives to the benefit of litigants and legal professionals alike.
Focusing on the theme of “Praise for our Partners in Justice,” Rush told Indiana’s legislators in a joint session of the General Assembly Jan. 18 that the state’s judicial system was able to achieve successes over the last year due in large part to statewide partnerships between courts, judicial offices and volunteers.
“This past year, your judiciary has made progress every day to make practical improvements to the courts,” Rush said. “And we have not done it alone. Running Indiana’s courts requires the hands and hearts of thousands of women and men in all of our 92 counties.”
Taking her audience on a “tour” of the judicial system across the state, the chief justice highlighted how various judicial programs related to the three initiatives are being implemented.
Chief among the initiatives is the court’s dedication to improving technology. Rush specifically praised Hamilton County Clerk Tammy Baitz and her chief deputy, Debbie LePere, for their work in leading the state’s charge toward electronic filing.
Since e-filing was first used in Indiana roughly 18 months ago, more than a quarter of all Hoosier counties have adopted the system, with 30,000 documents electronically filed each week. As those numbers continue to rise — with the eventual goal of full e-filing implementation across the state by the end of 2018 — the judiciary has created an Advisory Task Force on Remote Access to and Privacy of Electronic Court Records to find a sustainable balance between public access to online court documents and litigants’ rights to privacy, the chief justice said.
Aside from technological advancements, recent legislatively mandated reforms to Indiana’s criminal code are among the most significant changes the Indiana judiciary has undertaken in the last year. The chief justice had high praise for the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, a program designed to promote community safety while reducing child incarcerations by providing alternative discipline for low-level offenders.
Many offenders, juveniles included, are incarcerated because they are unable to get appropriate treatment for their mental health issues, Rush said. But in Wayne County, Sheriff Jeff Cappa, who was featured in the chief justice’s address, was instrumental in keeping one child out of jail when his mental illness led to increasingly aggressive behavior that his family could not control. Rather than sending that child to jail, Rush said the sheriff worked with the family to put them in contact with treatment providers who could help the child, thus improving his chances for recovery and lessening the odds of his incarceration.
Similarly, Allen, Bartholomew, Grant, Hamilton, Hendricks, Jefferson, Monroe, Porter, St. Joseph, Starke and Tipton counties have launched pilot programs to ensure low-level offenders are able to attend their court hearings, regardless of their families’ abilities to pay their bail.
Further, the chief justice praised Bob Vogler, a 79-year-old community corrections volunteer in Dubois County who leads other volunteers from area churches who focus on offenders’ spiritual and emotional well-being in the hopes of helping them effectively reintegrate back into society.
“We need more of you,” Rush told Vogler as he sat in the audience.
Among the youngest people at the 2017 State of the Judiciary was 8-year-old Kadi, whom Rush invited to the address to highlight the importance of the Court Appointed Special Advocate program. When Kadi was born, she needed a liver transplant, but her birth parents were not able to provide her with the medical care she needed.
So, Gary Friedman volunteered to become Kadi’s CASA through Monroe County’s program, and with his help she was able to find adoptive parents who could meet her medical needs. When Kadi stood in the balcony to introduce the audience to her adoptive family, she was met with a long and loud round of applause.
Initiatives like the CASA program serve to further the court’s third initiative, protecting Hoosier families, Rush said. Aside from citizen volunteers, the chief justice also praised the 7,200 Indiana attorneys who donated more than 220,000 pro bono hours in the last year to provide legal services to families in need.
Rush also took time to honor one of the court’s longest-serving public servants: Justice Robert Rucker, who is retiring this spring after 26 years on the Indiana appellate bench.
Rush praised Rucker for his legal scholarship, his insight and, what she said was most important, his “tremendous sense of humanity.”
“He’s something,” Rush said as the crowd rose for one of two standing ovations in Rucker’s honor.
Aside from the attorneys and volunteers within the judicial branch who work to further the court’s three key initiatives, the chief justice also commended Indiana’s executive and legislative leaders for their commitment to supporting the court’s work.
“Those who we have highlighted today on this tour are just a small sample of the extraordinary work and heavy lifting done by our multitude of partners working for justice,” Rush said. “Your partnerships on these many initiatives illustrate your commitment to our state, your dedication to serving our citizens, and, most of all, your deep desire to ensure the future is bright for all Hoosiers.”•