First round of COA interviews highlight candidates’ thoughts on technology use, personal experiences

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Senior Judge Margret Robb

Several candidates interviewing for an upcoming Court of Appeals of Indiana vacancy highlighted their past experiences and long family traditions in the law.

The seven members of the Judicial Nominating Commission interviewed nine candidates for the vacancy, which will occur when Judge Margret Robb retires.

Robb plans to retire this summer, leaving a seat on the bench open.

The commission asked questions of applicants about their understanding of the abuse of discretion standard, who they are as a person outside of their title and appellate opinions that stood out to them.

Stephanie Bibbs was the first candidate to interview Monday. Bibbs currently works for the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission.

She had applied and interviewed for a COA vacancy in 2021. Since then, she said she has taken the commission’s feedback and improved on civic engagement and mentorship.

“I’m asking this commission to look at who I was when I applied before and who I am today. I’m not the same person,” Bibbs said.

She highlighted how she looks to her own personal experiences and finds that diversity on a court can be useful.

When asked where she would want to have a traveling oral argument, Bibbs said she would like to hold one in Anderson.

Miami Circuit Judge Timothy Spahr discussed his family’s long tradition in law and watching his father have a case go to the U.S. Supreme Court.

JNC commissioner Brian Bauer asked Spahr about his reversal rate, which is 14%, and asked if there were any reversals he disagreed with. Spahr said no.

“The important thing is that we just at least learned from that experience. I’ve never made that mistake again, I learned from it,” he said.

When asked about technology and where he sees the courts in 10 year, Spahr pointed to digital evidence and deep fakes.

“I’m very concerned about (how) that’s going to impact us in terms of going forward in courts, because you’re going to have cases where people are going to say, ‘Well, I didn’t do that thing. In the video, I didn’t say that thing on that on your recording,’” Spahr said. “It does cause some concern for me. It’s going to be a challenge for courts to figure out authentication of those sorts of exhibits.”

Spahr said that if he is chosen by the governor for the COA spot, he would be adding rural representation to the appellate court.

Ice Miller attorney Paul Sweeney said he brings a diverse set of experiences, being that he is from New Jersey and started practicing in California.

He is a lover of Disney and came wearing a red tie with what looked like black dots that were Mickey Mouse ears.

JNC member Holly Wojcik asked Sweeny about ChatGPT.

Sweeney is on the technology committee at Ice Miller, and he said he would like to be on the technology committee for the COA if he is chosen.

“The facts are what really matter, and I don’t think AI is going to figure that out,” Sweeney said. “What are the important facts and what are the undisputed material facts?”

When asked about why there are tensions between the judicial branch and the public, he said a lot of it has to do with how lawyers and judges “PR” themselves.

“I think judges are the people that are best positioned to help us,” Sweeney said.

In his closing remarks, Sweeney compared what he brings to the court to adding coffee to barbecue rub for tips — depth.

“In a way, I would bring the coffee to the Court of Appeals to have depth of experience, like the depth of flavor when you add coffee to my rub,” he said.

Hamilton Circuit Judge Paul Felix talked about how he worked on House Bill 1407 this session.

Felix said he and several judges called and talked with legislators to amend the bill to one that would work better for everyone.

The bill, which was designed to assist with child in need of services cases, has stalled in committee.

Felix also talked about his upbringing and how it helped motivate him.

“When I had teachers that took the time saying, ‘We think you can do better, we know you can do better,’ they gave me the drive to be better,” Felix said.

Bauer noted Felix has had seven cases reversed since 2009 and asked if there are any he disagrees with.

Felix said he’s made hundreds of decisions during his time as judge and had learned from those experiences.

Attorney Carol Joven with Williams & Piatt in Indianapolis does work with malpractice. She said while she isn’t a trial judge, she can bring her experience as a practitioner to the bench: “my experience as a practitioner, and in my experience as to representing clients, taking cases to trials and appeals, and sometimes you have to be creative.”

She said with her experience, she is ready to hit the ground running.

When asked where she would want to hold a traveling oral argument, Joven said Wabash College.

While Robb is a member of the Fifth District, she also represents counties in the middle of the state, so only candidates residing in the Second District were eligible to apply.

Elizabeth Green of the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, Judge Marc Rothenberg of Marion Superior Court, Andrew Falk of the Public Defender Commission and Justin Forkner of the Office of Judicial Administration also applied for the vacancy. This article will be updated with comments from their interviews.

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