Day one of the interviews to fill Justice Robert Rucker’s impending vacancy on the Indiana Supreme Court is complete after 12 applicants came to the Statehouse for their 20-minute interviews. The interview sessions will resume Wednesday with Chief Justice Loretta Rush and the six members of the Judicial Nominating Commission interviewing the remaining eight candidates. Here’s what Tuesday afternoon’s candidates shared with the JNC:
Leslie Henderzahs, Church Church Hittle & Antrim P.C., Fishers
Henderzahs said according to those who work with her, one of her strongest people skills is “cohesion” and the ability to work with people who have differing opinions. Henderzahs said there is always merit to the opposing side, so recognizing opposing views is an important part of the decision-making process.
The question of diversity has been a major factor in the process to replace Rucker, the only black justice, and Henderzahs told the JNC that a candidate who could not appreciate other cultures might not be the best choice. However, she also said that diversity should also come from experience.
Stephen Creason, Indiana Attorney General’s Office
As the Supreme Court continues to put forth significant effort toward improving court technology, Rush asked Creason if he thought the court should begin to mandate a strong level of technological competence. Creason said he was fully supportive of that idea, noting that technological incompetence could lead to “disastrous results.”
When asked which former judge or justice he admired most in the state or federal courts, Creason had praise for former Marion Superior Judge Patricia Gifford. Creason said he admired Gifford’s commitment to fairness and the “tough, but not harsh” approach she took on the bench.
Steven Hostetler, St. Joseph Superior Court
Almost every applicant was asked what question they would pose to the Founding Fathers. Looking at the current political climate in the United States, Hostetler said he would seek their advice on how to best heal the divisiveness pervading the country and causing widespread controversy on all levels.
The JNC also wanted to know how Hostetler viewed the relationship between the state and federal constitutions, and the judge conceded that while the U.S. Constitution has superiority, often, the two can work together. Hostetler went on to say that citizens are entitled to the rights in both state and federal constitutions, so the situation is not always an either-or decision.
William Riley, Riley Williams & Piatt LLC, Indianapolis
Riley said his judicial philosophy is to fulfill an obligation to apply the law as written and intended. The Indianapolis attorney went on to say that citizens’ rights extend only as far as the language of the Constitution, and that those rights are given by enacting legislation.
Though his practice focuses on civil litigation, Riley, in response to a question about criminal law from Rush, said he has met with Hamilton Superior Judge Steve Nation in the past to expand his understanding of criminal law. Those sessions, Riley said, would help him navigate the waters of a criminal case on the Supreme Court bench.
Matthew Kincaid, Boone Superior Court
Rush frequently asked the applicants if they had ever encountered a situation in which their obligation to uphold the law had come into conflict with their personal beliefs. In response, Kincaid pointed to a situation on the bench in which he was uncomfortable with an attorney fees award in relation to the size of damages in the case. However, Kincaid said the law presented him with a clear answer, so he followed that course.
Similarly, when asked what he had learned from one of his decisions being reversed by an appellate court, Kincaid told the story of case in which he granted summary judgment to a defendant hospital. The hospital was sued after a visitor drove their car into a pond — which was not marked with warning signs — and Kincaid granted summary judge based on the belief that the plaintiffs could not actually sue for that reason. But his decision was reversed and the case was sent to trial, an experience that taught him to look more closely at the law before granting summary judgment.
Lyle Hardman, Hunt Suedhoff Kalamaros LLP, South Bend
In order to promote more pro bono service in the Indiana legal community, Hardman said he would advocate for more collaboration with Indiana bar associations. Providing equal access to justice for indigent litigants is an important issue, Hardman said, and work with bar associations could highlight that importance and inspire more attorneys to take indigent causes.
Further, when asked about weaknesses in Indiana law, Hardman said a lack of funding makes it difficult for indigent clients to access the court system. He also expressed concern about mental health services in jails and said he would like to see the judiciary explore the idea of improving such services to inmates suffering from mental health issues.
Click here to read about Tuesday morning's interviews.
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