Judicial Nominating Commission preparing for final Supreme Court interviews

The applicant interview process to fill the impending vacancy on the Indiana Supreme Court is winding down, with the first half of semifinalist interviews now complete. Six of the 11 semifinalists who applied to fill Justice Robert Rucker’s seat after he retires next month sat for their half-hour interviews with Chief Justice Loretta Rush and the Judicial Nominating Commission Tuesday. The last five interviews are scheduled for Wednesday morning. Here’s a look at what the applicants had to say during their second round of interviews:

Judge Vicki Carmichael, Clark Circuit Court

Politics has no place in the practice or administration of the law, Carmichael said during her interview, telling the JNC that if a case she is hearing has a political element, she looks strictly to the facts to inform her decision. Further, Carmichael, who was elected to the bench as a Democrat, said politics wouldn’t matter even if she were appointed to the state’s highest bench by Gov. Eric Holcomb, a Republican.

Asked about the cases or judicial issues that keep her up at night, the Clark County judge said she is often troubled by cases involving children and drugs, and sometimes a combination of the two. When she’s considering a decision, the judge said she always asks herself whether her ruling will make a positive difference in the child or drug user’s life.

Rep. Thomas Washburne, Old National Bancorp

Indiana Supreme Court justices are tasked with hearing cases from nearly every area of the law, and while Washburne said no one can ever be an expert in all of those areas, the state representative said his analytical ability would help him tackle cases from areas of the law that he is less familiar with. That involves looking at a case to discern the specific issues to be considered, an ability he said he has honed during his legal career.

Diversity is among the most important considerations the JNC is taking into account when making its recommendations to Holcomb, and Washburne told the committee that he values citizens’ rights to advocate for diversity and racial equality. Asked specifically about the Black Lives Matter movement, Washburne said he does not always agrees with the movement’s methods, but applauds its supporters for their tenacity in exercising their constitutional rights.

Judge Christopher Goff, Wabash Superior Court

With the recent revelation that Indiana bar passage rates fell to 48 percent in February, the JNC frequently asked candidates how they would propose improving that rate in the future. Goff said it seems as though law schools aren’t attracting the same level of students as they did a generation ago, which is contributing to the dropping bar passage rate. However, if attorneys reach out to potential students and show them how important it is to be a lawyer, then Goff said a stronger group of students might enroll and help raise the passage rate again.

Asked how he views diversity on the court, Goff told the JNC that he adopted a black child in his early 20s, so he tries to view the world through the eyes of his son. Additionally, Goff said he pursued an African-American Studies minor at Ball State University, so he has always had an interest in promoting African-American culture.

William Riley, Riley Williams & Piatt LLC

As one of the few semifinalists who is a trial lawyer, Riley told the JNC that he takes a healthy fear with him into each trial – the fear of letting his client down. In the same way, Riley said he would take the same fear to the Indiana Supreme Court – the fear of letting the state down – and would take his work as a justice very seriously in order to keep that fear from becoming reality.

Similarly, asked how his experience in civil cases would influence his work on the Supreme Court bench, Riley said he has acquired a genuine respect for all lawyers he argues with or against. That respect would extend to his fellow justices, he said, as well as to the lawyers who would argue before him.

Judge Maria Granger, Floyd Superior Court

As the only black semi-finalist applying to fill Rucker’s seat, Granger said her role in promoting diversity on the court could be one of education and community outreach. Going out into the community is a key element of getting multiple perspectives on an issue, as well as building public trust and consensus, she said.

Part of public trust is transparency in the courts, including the trial courts, an idea Granger said she tries to promote in her own courtroom. However, the judge also said trial courts should think carefully before allowing cameras into their courtrooms, as she has seen instances in which that level of transparency has done more harm than good.

Elizabeth Green, Riley Bennett Egloff LLP

With a practice that focuses on business and commercial litigation, Green conceded that she would have a steeper learning curve when hearing cases involving criminal and constitutional law as a justice. However, she said in preparation for her Tuesday interview she asked a colleague to help her brush up on criminal law, and further said her career has helped her “learn how to learn” new areas of the law as it has become necessary.

Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has been mentioned several times throughout the interview process, but when asked about the often brusque tone he took in his dissenting opinions, Green said she did not believe in “pounding the fist.” Such an approach is not useful, Green said, and often, the message a justice is trying to convey can get lost if they are too aggressive in their opinions.

The final five interviews will begin Wednesday morning at 9 a.m. Rush and the JNC will then meet in executive session to select three finalists to send to Holcomb, who will have 60 days to make a final selection. Read a recap of tomorrow’s interviews at www.theindianalawyer.com, and follow @Indiana_Lawyer on Twitter for live updates.

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