COA receives national honor for Appeals on Wheels program

Court of Appeals of Indiana Judges Paul Mathias, Nancy Vaidik and Elizabeth Tavitas sit on a traveling appellate panel to hear an oral argument on the road. (Photo courtesy of Indiana Court of Appeals)

The Court of Appeals of Indiana has been honored with the National Center for State Courts 2023 Sandra Day O’Connor Award for the Advancement of Civics.

The award has been bestowed upon the appellate court because of its Appeals on Wheels program, in which COA judges travel around the state conducting oral arguments.

The mobile court has set up in schools, retirement homes and conference centers as part of the appellate court’s initiative to bring civics education to life.

“The incredible feat of reaching all 92 Indiana counties is about much more than holding an oral argument,” Indiana Chief Justice Loretta Rush wrote in her nomination letter. “The Appeals on Wheels program provides in-person civics education to the tens, hundreds, sometimes thousands of Hoosiers in attendance at each event. It provides our citizens with a unique, first-row seat at how the judiciary resolves real-world disputes based on the rule of law. And it allows Hoosiers of all ages an opportunity to meet with leaders of their judicial branch.”

The award, named after retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, honors an organization, court, program or individual who has promoted, inspired, improved, or led an innovation or accomplishment in the field of civics education related to the justice system.

“It is refreshing to see an entire court so committed to advancing civics education for as many years as the Court of Appeals of Indiana,” NCSC President Mary C. McQueen said in a news release. “Their program is an excellent example of meeting people where they’re at to increase public understanding of the justice system.”

The appellate court had held more than 650 traveling oral arguments since 2000 and 20 in early 2023.

“We are deeply honored and grateful that this long-standing practice of the Court is being recognized on a national level,” Court of Appeals Chief Judge Robert Altice said in a news release. “Here in Indiana, we know that an educated, civically minded public is fundamental to good government and just results. We look forward to continuing to expand the Court’s outreach and providing experiential, inquiry-based learning opportunities to Hoosiers, who deserve to see their judiciary working for them.”

The award will be presented to the appellate court this summer during the annual conference of the Conference of Chief Justices and Conferences of State Court Administrators.

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