When the Indiana Supreme Court arrives in Gary for oral arguments Thursday, the legal community in Northwest Indiana will be offering a special welcome for the justices and in particular, its favorite son, Justice Robert Rucker.
Rucker, who will be retiring this spring after 26 years on the appellate bench, grew up in Gary and practiced in the community before being appointed to the Court of Appeals in 1991. The court will hear the arguments for Danny Sims v. Andre Pappas and Melissa Pappas, 45S03-1701-CT-26, in Rucker’s high school alma mater of Theodore Roosevelt College and Career Academy.
Rucker has not set a definite retirement date but this will be one of his final arguments as a Supreme Court justice.
Adam Sedia, Lake County Bar Association president and one of the attorney arguing in the case, said having Rucker represent Northwest Indiana on the Supreme Court has been meaningful to the legal community in that part of the state.
“We still consider him one of us,” Sedia said, “and we’re grateful for his service to us and the whole state for so many years.”
The oral arguments at scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m. CST in the school’s auditorium with more than 300 students from area schools expected to attend.
Following the arguments, the Lake County Bar Association, the Kimbrough Bar Association and the Women Lawyers Association will host a luncheon at 12:30 p.m. at Gamba Ristorante in Merrillville. About 150 will be attending including retired Chief Justice Randall Shepard, retired Justices Frank Sullivan and Brent Dickson, and Court of Appeals Judge Melissa May.
The luncheon, said Women Lawyers Association President Jaime Oss, is to thank Rucker and support the entire the Indiana Supreme Court, its staff and the attorneys presenting the case. Oss was not anticipating the large turnout but believes the response reflects Rucker’s contributions to Indiana.
“I think it says that Justice Rucker has had a huge impact not only on Northwest Indiana but also the state, it’s lawyers and all the judges and justices he’s worked with,” Oss said.
Later in the evening, Valparaiso University Law School will host a reception and honor Rucker, who graduated from the school in 1976. The event is for the Indiana State Bar Association’s Leadership Development Academy, but when the school learned of Rucker’s retirement and impending visit, it included its alumnus in the festivities.
Similar to the luncheon, the number of people who responded to the invitation quickly outgrew the reserved space in downtown Valparaiso so the event was moved back to the law school. The reception is expected to bring about 150 individuals.
“Justice Rucker is one of our most respected alumni of the law school,” said Vanessa Verner, associate director of alumni relations for the law school. “People just want to pay their respects and thank him.”
It was through her own participation in the Leadership Development Academy that Oss first met Rucker. She remembered when he came to speak to the group.
“He was so funny and so personable,” Oss said. “It was neat to see him get up and be so engaging and open to us.”
Rucker and his accomplishments have been recognized by his northwestern Indiana colleagues in the past. The judicial building in Gary is named the Justice Robert D. Rucker Superior Courthouse and, in 2015, Valparaiso Law School named a lecture series after him.
Sedia said the legal community is excited about visit not only from Rucker but also the entire Indiana Supreme Court.
“The turnout shows this is more than just a formality to us,” he said. “People really do want to show their appreciation.”
Rucker was also honored this week in both the Indiana House of Representatives and Senate for his service.