With all 20 interviews to replace Justice Robert Rucker on the Indiana Supreme Court now complete, Chief Justice Loretta Rush and the Judicial Nominating Commission are now considering which applicants should move on to the semifinalists round in April.
Eight more candidates sat for their 20-minutes interviews Wednesday, half of whom were judges. Here are the highlights from Wednesday’s interview session:
Peter Foley, Morgan Superior Court
As a judge in Morgan Superior Court, Foley was asked about the longest amount of time he’s ever kept a case under advisement. Although he did not provide a specific answer to that question, Foley said he doesn’t like to let cases sit for more than 30 days because he knows litigation can hang over people as they await a potentially life-changing decision.
The JNC also wanted to know what role the Indiana Supreme Court can play in improving the lives of Hoosiers, a question that was posed to multiple applicants. From his perspective, Foley said the trial courts, such as his, have the most direct impact on people, so the ways in which the Supreme Court molds the state’s lower courts has the potential to make a significant difference in people’s lives.
Maria Granger, Floyd Superior Court
As one of only two black applicants to replace Rucker, the only black justice currently on the court, Granger told the JNC that she values diversity not only on the high court, but in all levels of the judiciary. Promoting diversity and inclusion builds public trust, Granger said, and also gives young attorneys of all backgrounds the ability to picture themselves one day sitting on the Supreme Court bench.
In one portion of her application, Granger wrote that her jurisdiction includes, among other things, “personal or business injury.” When asked how her work on the trial court created equality between both personal and business litigants, Granger said she approaches business cases with the knowledge that the outcome can affect both the business and individual people, such as employees.
Dale Arnett, solo practitioner, Winchester
When asked why he wanted to fill the vacancy left on the court after Rucker’s retirement, Arnett told the JNC that he had never pictured himself as a judge, yet fell in love with constitutional law as a law student. The thought of getting the opportunity to analyze and interpret the state and federal constitutions as a justice enticed him, he said, and he believes his legal experience qualifies him for such a position.
Arnett frequently referred to former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia as a role model in his legal career, noting that a fraternity he belonged to while in law school named itself after the longtime justice. Arnett said he didn’t always agree with Scalia’s opinions, but felt the justice made a genuine effort to do what is right.
Vicki Carmichael, Clark Circuit Court
If selected to fill Rucker’s vacancy on the high court, Carmichael said she would bring a unique perspective to the bench – the perspective of southern Indiana. In that portion of the state, litigation often does not go to trial, Carmichael said. Instead, litigants prefer to settle out of court and work through their disputes in mediation. That approach to the law is unique to the southern portion of the state, Carmichael said, so her experience in Clark County would enable her to offer unique views on the issues facing the court.
A former clerk in the Kentucky Supreme Court, Carmichael said the justices often permitted her and other clerks to sit in on their discussions of their cases. After observing the rapport of the justices, the Clark County judge said she learned the art of consensus building and engaging in thoughtful discussions.
Elizabeth Green, Riley Bennett Egloff, Indianapolis
At 39 years old, Green is among the youngest applicants, but she insisted to the JNC that her so-called “youth” did not mean she could not perform the role of a justice well. Green told the commission that she is willing and able to learn both the ins-and-outs of being a justice and the necessary areas of the law, but further noted that she could possibly be on the bench for decades to come, bringing stability to a court that has been in flux for the past few years.
Aside from deciding cases, the Supreme Court also has an administrative arm that works with the Indiana bar and the community as a whole. Asked how she might view her role in the administrative arm, Green said she would be interested in working on educational initiatives, particularly with young attorneys as they learn the ropes of practicing law.
Leanna Weissmann, Weissmann Law Offices, Lawrenceburg
A previous candidate to take a seat on the high court, Weissmann told the JNC that now, one year after her last application to the court, she has gained more experience by immersing herself in the study of Indiana law. A solo practitioner who does significant work in criminal law, Weissmann said she has also tried to shore up experience in other practice areas, such as civil law, to better prepare herself for a spot as one of the five justices.
A frequent question asked Wednesday was whether a person’s legal status should affect whether the Indiana Bill of Rights could extend to them. While many of the applicants who fielded that question responded with “No,” Weissmann took a different approach, telling the JNC that it would be best to look at what sort of citizenship or legalization status the person in question has, and further noted that immigration issues are best handled at a federal level.
Christopher Goff, Wabash Superior Court
As a trial court judge, Goff said judicial decisions are usually left up to his discretion, and often those decisions have to be made in a relatively quick timeframe. But if he were selected to be a Supreme Court justice, Goff said he would welcome the opportunity to collaborate with the other justices and take the time to develop a carefully crafted opinion.
When asked what he would consider when deciding a case as a justice, the Wabash Superior Court judge said he would rely heavily on the record before him, yet would also consult with others and engage in a lively conversation with his fellow justices. Additionally, Goff said he might also consider amicus briefs, yet noted that the official record should be given the most weight.
Bryce Owens, Owens & Owens, Pendleton
When a dissenting opinion is written, its intended audience are the members of the Indiana bar, Owens said. Such an opinion should be used to explain differences in legal viewpoints, the Pendleton attorney said, and those differences should be illustrated so that bar members can understand the author’s personal point of view.
Asked which Supreme Court case had impacted his approach to the law, Owens pointed to the case of Brown v. Board of Education. In rejecting the doctrine of separate but equal, Owens said the Supreme Court of the United States made a significant step toward promoting justice by incorporating all people together.
Rush and the JNC will publicly vote on the semi-finalists this afternoon.
Indiana justice interviews underway