New faces bring flux to Indiana Supreme Court

The decline in the number of majority opinions and in the percentage of concurring opinions coming from the Indiana Supreme Court last fiscal year are being linked to the transitions in the state’s highest judicial body, which has welcomed three new justices and installed a new chief justice all within the past five years.

Chief Justice Loretta Rush, appointed in 2012 and assuming leadership of the court in 2014, sees the decreases as reflections of the court’s recent transitions. With its new members – including Justice Geoffrey Slaughter who was appointed in 2016 and Justice Christopher Goff who was appointed in July – the court is in flux and still trying to find its rhythm.   

“I think it’s a lot cleaner when you have some consensus but I really respect the dissents and concurring opinions that come up,” Rush said.

According to the Indiana Supreme Court’s 2016-2017 annual report, the court issued 73 majority opinions and 14 non-majority opinions during the fiscal year. Also, 77 percent of the opinions were unanimous.

This compares to the 2015-2016 fiscal year where the court handed down 85 majority opinions and 14 non-majority opinions. It had a consensus rate of 83 percent.

The five justices gathered Tuesday to discuss the current annual report in detail and talk about the technology changes ongoing in the state judiciary.

“I think when you look at the numbers in this report, you are reminded just how blessed Indiana is on its quality of trial judges,” Justice Mark Massa said, noting that of the nearly one million cases filed every year, only about 875 were petitioned the Supreme Court last year and the justices took less than 100.

“When you think about that, the point you take away from this is what an extraordinary job our trial judges to everyday calling balls and strikes,” Massa continued.

The breakdown of opinions by author is as follows:

•    Rush authored 13 majority and zero non-majority opinions;
•    Massa wrote nine majority opinions and one non-majority opinion;
•    Justice Steven David penned 11 majority and seven non-majority opinions;
•    Justice Geoffrey Slaughter authored five majority and two non-majority opinions;
•    Now-retired Justice Robert Rucker wrote nine majority and four non-majority opinions.

Also, the Supreme Court held 59 oral arguments during the 2016-2017 fiscal year. Of those, 34 were criminal and 25 were civil or tax.

The Supreme Court is continuing to transition the state judiciary to electronic filing. As of June 30, a total of 2.1 million documents had been e-filed statewide. Weekly, 41,000 documents were e-filed with 70 percent being filed in the Odyssey case management system.

David, who leads the court’s technology efforts, credited Rush’s leadership and the collaboration between the judiciary, legislative and executive branches with making Indiana a leader in court technology.

“That’s good for Indiana lawyers, it’s good for Indiana businesses, it’s good for Indiana citizens,” David said. “It will bring down the cost of filing, it will bring down the travel and help reallocate resources.”

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