With the Indiana Judicial Nominating Commission’s stamp of approval next to their names, three trial court judges are waiting to learn who among them will be selected as the state’s next Supreme Court justice.
At the conclusion of two rounds of interviews that wrapped up Wednesday morning, the JNC, led by Indiana Chief Justice Loretta Rush, voted Wednesday evening to recommend Clark Circuit Judge Vicki Carmichael, Wabash Superior Judge Christopher Goff and Boone Superior Judge Matthew Kincaid as finalists to fill the Supreme Court vacancy that will come open after Justice Robert Rucker retires next month. Gov. Eric Holcomb is now tasked with selecting one of the three finalists to take Rucker’s seat.
Kincaid returns to the finalist pool this year after being recommended for the Supreme Court vacancy left when former Chief Justice Brent Dickson retired last year. St. Joseph Superior Judge Steven Hostetler and then-Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP partner Geoffrey Slaughter were also finalists for Dickson’s spot, with former Gov. Mike Pence ultimately selecting Slaughter.
If selected as the state’s next justice, Kincaid would bring roughly 14 years’ experience as a judge to the state’s highest bench. Prior to becoming a judge, Kincaid worked as an associate with Riley Bennett & Egloff LLP, where he primarily practiced civil litigation and workers’ compensation law, according to his application.
Asked to describe himself during his Wednesday interview with the JNC, Kincaid said he is a father, a thinker and a confident person. Additionally, Kincaid said he is also frequently the judge of himself as he reflects on his life and work.
Just days shy of his 45th birthday later this month, Goff, if chosen to replace Rucker, would be a decade younger than his colleagues on the bench; Slaughter is the next-youngest justice at 54 years old.
Goff has served on the Wabash Superior Court since July 2005.
Prior to ascending to the bench, Goff wrote in his application that his general law practice “was typical of a county seat practitioner.” His work focused largely on domestic relations and criminal cases, as well as collections, wills and estates, personal injury law and work with small businesses.
Asked during his interview about some of the greatest obstacles to justice facing Indiana litigants, Goff said equal access to justice. Without that access, Goff said citizens’ trust in the legal system will begin to erode.
Like her fellow finalists, Carmichael has been on the trial court bench for more than 10 years, first taking a spot on the Jeffersonville City Court in 2000 then moving to the Clark Circuit Court in 2007. Prior to that, she was a self-employed practicing attorney in Jeffersonville and previously clerked for the Kentucky Supreme Court in the 1980s.
Carmichael was elected to the bench as a Democrat, a fact that differentiates her from Republican Gov. Holcomb. Yet she repeatedly told the JNC that when she is in her role as a judge, politics have no place in her decision-making process. Instead, the judge said she looks solely at the facts of the case, and further said she believes her track record indicates that she is worthy of being a justice, regardless of political party.
The JNC’s next step is to send a formal report on the three finalists to Holcomb, who will then have 60 days to make a selection. Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathryn Dolan said the letter would be sent to Holcomb in the “very near future.” A representative from Holcomb’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the finalists or when he might make his decision after receiving the letter.