Chuckles from the assembly gathered for the 2022 State of the Judiciary address followed as Indiana Chief Justice Loretta Rush opened by saying, “It’s so great to be here.”
On Wednesday, Rush presented her eighth State of the Judiciary address to Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, state lawmakers and fellow judges on the conditions of Indiana’s courts.
The message, she said, was one of perseverance.
Titled “Indiana Courts: Fulfilling Our Constitutional Responsibilities,” Rush’s annual address focused on what she called four critical components of the judiciary’s constitutional responsibilities, including its “critical work” to increase public trust, strengthening Hoosier families, improving public safety and modernizing courts.
“We are implementing initiatives to increase confidence in the judiciary,” Rush said. “And why is public trust so critical to the judiciary? Because it’s the judiciary’s currency.”
Citing Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist Papers – and assuring that she wouldn’t break out in song – Rush noted that while the judiciary has “no influence over the sword or the purse,” it does have a tremendous influence over Hoosiers’ trust in government.
Speaking to the strength of Hoosier families, the chief justice said Indiana is instituting court reforms to better serve vulnerable and endangered children and adults, veterans, and families navigating through divorce, child custody and evictions.
Rush cited the judiciary’s efforts to expand problem-solving courts while remaining committed to working with all justice partners to safely implement pretrial reform. She also said the state is innovating on the modernization of courts.
“From recently completing one statewide case management system to increasing the speedy resolution of business disputes, we are committed to leveraging technology to better deliver justice across our state,” Rush said.
Public trust, she continued, is a bond that connects all public servants. One of the most deeply committed public servants among them, she said, is Justice Steve David.
David, who is set to retire in the fall of 2022, received a standing ovation and thunderous applause for his service to the state’s judiciary. The justice came up to the podium at Rush’s invitation to give a portion of the 2022 address.
“This is a tremendous honor,” David said.
David celebrated the modernization of technology among Indiana’s courts, prompting cheers as he praised the state’s accomplishment of maintaining a unified case management system.
“All Hoosiers now have free, 24-7 access to court information,” he said.
Indiana’s commercial courts and specialized courts also received a mention, with David stating that 21 additional specialized dockets are in the planning process.
As for public safety, David noted that 12 Indiana counties are certified as pretrial services agencies led by the courts. Thirty more are in planning stages, he said.
David also praised the Supreme Court’s newly launched Commission on Equity and Access in the Court system, asking legislators and judges not to be afraid of it.
“It is our way of doing a friendly audit of our own processes,” he said. “And we aren’t doing it alone.”
Before handing it back to the chief justice, David gave a final remark to the crowd, saying that public service is about doing what’s right because of a care for others.
“We are glad to be doubling down on our public service efforts – with you– in 2022,” he said.
Looking to the future, Rush highlighted the efforts currently underway to improve the state’s courts.
That includes working on a centralized jail management system that would improve public safety by ensuring accurate criminal record, offering judges to see real-time incarceration status and alerting community agencies when a supervised person is arrested.
The chief justice also announced that the judiciary would be implementing a pathways program that will tailor the court experience to a family’s needs through efforts of the Family Law Taskforce. As for remote access, Rush said the judiciary is also piloting a mobile court check-in program.
Putting a heavy emphasis on mental health, Rush urged unity among public servants in the room to tackle the state’s broken mental health system together.
“Today, mental illness permeates nearly every type of case that comes before our judges,” Rush said. “In fact, the criminal justice system is now a primary referral source for a person to obtain mental health treatment.”
Rush announced that the judiciary would be convening a statewide mental health summit in October 2022 with teams from Indiana’s 92 counties to develop “responsible, cost-effective solutions.”
Looking back on 2021, Rush again declared that perseverance was the best word to describe her message. She said the state’s judiciary has a resilience that allows it to continue fulfilling its constitutional promises.
“I know you agree with me. A tenacious spirit runs deep in this state,” Rush concluded with an encouraging smile. “We are proud to stand in service with you for all our fellow Hoosiers.”