Chief Justice Rush delves into judiciary’s annual report

Situated at the head of a table in the Indiana Supreme Court’s law library, Chief Justice Loretta Rush shared her thoughts Wednesday on the judiciary’s recently released annual report.

The document, which also includes reports for agencies that operate as arms of the Supreme Court, addressed a variety of topics the chief justice discussed. Rush began by noting the high court’s newest efforts to tackle justice reform through the Indiana Innovation Initiative, which aims to make the state’s justice system more efficient, less expensive and easy to navigate.

Initiative taskforce groups will analyze justice reform research, assess the impact of reform efforts in other states and identify innovative strategies and technologies to manage different case types. Rush noted the number of underrepresented litigants and how technology could help ever-evolving courts meet their needs.

“There are some great ideas percolating around the country, such as online dispute resolution for infractions or ordinance violations,” Rush said.

Other questions for the initiative’s consideration: How could families enduring divorce proceedings be exposed to less trauma and more efficiency in their cases to more quickly reach healing? How could electronic filing be more user-friendly to consumers, 65% of whom access MyCase on a smartphone.

“Those are some ideas,” Rush said. “It’s sort of far-reaching, but I don’t want to see Indiana behind the 8-ball with regard to different reforms that can make our judiciary more accessible to the people who use it.”

Pretrial release reform

 The Indiana judiciary is seeking a holistic approach to addressing pretrial release reform, Rush said. Issues surrounding the upcoming Criminal Rule 26 were also discussed. Rush noted the numbers coming out of counties that have implemented the rule through participation in an 11-county pilot program have been good.

Criminal Rule 26 holds that arrestees must be released without money bail or surety as long as they are not a flight risk or a danger to themselves or others, and as long as they are not charged with murder or treason. Courts in every county will be subject to the rule on Jan. 1, but Rush noted that teams from each community will be able to offer their input on what is most comfortable for each county specifically.

“It’s not a one-size-fits-all. What pretrial release looks like in Marion County is going to be different than how it looks in Grant County,” Rush said. “We’re giving a lot of discretion to the teams.”

Dipping consensus opinions

Indiana Supreme Court justices have seen a dip in the number of unanimous opinions handed down. For the 2017-2018 fiscal year, the high court issued 84% unanimous opinions. That number dropped to 67% for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2019. However, Rush said that’s not entirely a bad thing.

“Sixty-seven percent can be a really good thing,” she said. “When you compare it to other states, we agree or disagree, but our dissents are civil. You don’t always see that in other states, so I think as we work together, a dip in unanimity shows that we’re all reading the cases and taking a hard look at what we think is the right way.”

Attorney discipline

Each week, the justices review between two to five attorney disciplinary cases, Rush said. She’s noticed a growing trend of mental illness and substance abuse issues across the disciplinary actions she sees.

The number of calls received by the Judges & Lawyers Assistance Program seeking help rose to 425 calls in the 2018-2019 fiscal year from 281 calls the previous year.

Wrapping up the discussion, the chief justice recalled the year and beyond, praising the state judiciary for being a “solid institution.”

“When I applied for this position, I never thought I would get selected,” Rush said. “I feel very fortunate. I think our judiciary works well with other branches of government. I’m really pleased.”

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