Interviews of the 20 candidates who have applied to fill the next vacancy on the Indiana Supreme Court are officially underway. Chief Justice Loretta Rush and the six members of the Judicial Nominating Commission began the 20-minute interview sessions this morning, speaking with six candidates from across the state.
The commission’s questions covered a wide range of topics, from principles of statutory interpretation to the Court’s role in promoting Indiana business to the very simple question of, “Why do you want this job.” Here’s a look at some of the ideas the candidates shared with the commission.
Ralph Dowling, Dowling Law Office, Muncie
Of the four qualities the philosopher Socrates attributed to judges – to hear courteously, to answer wisely, to consider soberly and to decide impartially – Rush wanted to know which quality Dowling saw as a strength in his legal work, and which could be improved. Hearing courteously is already a regular part of Dowling’s work as he listens to his clients’ concerns, he said, though considering soberly could be a challenge in terms of removing human emotion from his work as a Supreme Court justice and considering a case from an entirely judicial perspective.
Dowling was also asked what guiding principles he would use when approaching statutory interpretation, and he, like many of the applicants, said he would look to the language of the statute to determine any ambiguity, then would work to find answers to that ambiguity.
Judge Clayton Graham, Marion Superior Court
Describing himself as a humble man who comes from modest means, Graham praised outgoing Justice Robert Rucker, whom he could replace, for his compassion for the “common man” and for humanity as a whole. Graham, who is originally from Atlantic City, also had kind words for the state of Indiana, saying it has become his home.
Asked how the Indiana Supreme Court could promote Indiana business, Graham pointed to the recent creation of commercial courts. Calling the commercial court system “one of the best things to happen to the state of Indiana,” Graham praised the ability of businesses to now resolve their legal problems in a more expeditious manner.
Jaime Oss, Huelat Mack & Kreppein P.C., LaPorte
Among the youngest applicants to fill Rucker’s seat is 38-year-old Jaime Oss. Considering Oss’ youth, Rush asked the LaPorte attorney what experience she has that would make her an asset on the bench. Oss pointed to her experience in civil litigation, saying she is regularly tasked with working through complex legal theories when working on a case, which has equipped her to do strong legal analysis.
A frequent question asked of the candidates was, “If you could meet the Founding Fathers, what would you ask them?” Oss praised their “brilliance” in developing a system of government with three co-equal branches, and said she would want to know how they divined such a system.
Larry Medlock, Washington Circuit Court
Asked about the value of a dissenting opinion and whether he would feel comfortable writing one, Judge Larry Medlock of the Washington Circuit Court said that while he wants to be a team player, he also has very strong feelings about certain legal issues. Further, Medlock said all justices are not required to share the same thoughts on every issue and would not want the court to become a rubberstamp for the majority’s beliefs.
Medlock was then posed a very simple yet weighty question – “Why do you want this job?” Pointing to a successful 30-year career as a practitioner and judge, the jurist said he believes he is ready and prepared to take on the challenges of sitting on the state’s highest bench.
Rep. Thomas Washburne, associate counsel at Old National Bancorp, Evansville
The only legislator-lawyer to enter his name into the running to fill Rucker’s seat, Rep. Thomas Washburne fielded multiple questions about the relationship between the Legislature and Supreme Court. The state representative said he has the ability to delineate what the law is, what the law could be, a question for the court, and a question for the General Assembly, so he would be able to transition from legislator to justice without concern.
Washburne was also asked about the need for more attorneys to serve as counsel for indigent clients facing a lawsuit, and the Evansville attorney said he believes meeting the needs of indigent clients is a fundamental role of the government.
Peter Rusthoven, Barnes & Thornburg LLP, Indianapolis
The final applicant in Tuesday morning’s interviews was Peter Rusthoven, who was asked by Rush how his work advances “the cause of the defenseless.” Rusthoven said he is currently working on a case in which a man was left destitute by a bad family situation and further said when he met the man, he knew he needed to take his case to help him plead his cause.
Then, when asked how his background had prepared him for a seat on the Indiana Supreme Court, Rusthoven gave a variety of examples to the commission, including his belief in working with the media and his ability to engage people with different beliefs and ideologies.
Read the Indiana Lawyer daily and visit www.theindianalawyer.com for more updates on the first round of interviews. Follow @Indiana_Lawyer on Twitter for live updates from the interview room.