JNC wraps up initial COA interviews for Molter vacancy

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Editor’s note: This story has been updated. Check back to theindianalawyer.com tonight to find out who the finalists are.

The Indiana Judicial Nominating Commission has wrapped up its interviews for an opening on the Court of Appeals of Indiana left by now-Indiana Supreme Court Justice Derek Molter.

Interviews of 12 candidates vying to succeed Molter on the Court of Appeals were conducted by the seven-member JNC at the Indiana Statehouse on Tuesday, concluding this afternoon.

The applicants that faced questions from the JNC include Paul C. Sweeney of Ice Miller LLP; Grant Superior Judge Dana J. Kenworthy; Zachary J. Stock of Zachary J. Stock Attorney At Law P.C.; Cass Superior Judge Lisa L. Swaim; Carol N. Joven of Williams & Piatt LLC; Brad A. Catlin of Williams & Piatt LLC; Andrew R. Falk of the Indiana Public Defender Commission; Marion Superior Judge Jennifer P. Harrison; Marion Circuit Court Magistrate Judge Stephen R. Creason; Marion Superior Court Judge Ryan K. Gardner, Hamilton Circuit Court Judge Paul A. Felix; and Marion Superior Court Judge Marc T. Rothenberg.

Holcomb will have 60 days to select the next Court of Appeals judge once the recommendations reach his desk.

Here are some highlights from Tuesday’s initial candidate interviews.

Paul C. Sweeney, Ice Miller LLP

At this point in his career, as senior counsel at Ice Miller LLP, Paul Sweeney said he is in the “perfect place” to mentor and help younger lawyers. He described servant leadership as being in a place where although you may have the background and experience to show off what you bring to the table, you instead help others to see the strengths within themselves.

“One of the things I like doing is making people better, because people did that for me,” Sweeney said.

Looking to the future of the legal profession, Sweeney said that three major problems face it: retirement of baby boomer attorneys, low numbers of attorneys in rural communities and the “bad people” reputation lawyers seems to get from the public.

“As a Court of Appeals judge,” he said, “I think they’re uniquely positioned to go out into the community, not just to our fellow lawyers, not just to our fellow judges, but out to the community, so that people see that judges are just normal people and that lawyers are normal people.”

Judge Dana J. Kenworthy, Grant Superior Court 

Appearing before the JNC for the third time this year, Grant Superior Judge Dana Kenworthy reflected on how being an introvert could be beneficial for the appellate court.

“There is strength in introversion,” Kenworthy said, noting that several individuals thanked her for her defense of being a quiet leader following her previous COA vacancy interviews.

The judge said her greatest strength is her strong desire to serve, while her weakness is her need to set boundaries on not doing too much at once. When asked what she admires about the people who often face tragedy in her courtroom, Kenworthy said that she believes there is some good in every human.

“I’ve always believed that,” she said. “And so I think a lot of times people in the courtroom don’t see that in themselves. And when they are able to recognize that, that’s really neat to watch.”

Zachary J. Stock, Zachary J. Stock Attorney At Law P.C. 

With his experience in both civil and criminal work, as well as family law, Zachary J. Stock of Zachary J. Stock Attorney At Law P.C. said that is critically important for Court of Appeals judges to have a breadth of diversity in the types of legal knowledge they have.

Stock said that there is currently an undermining of trust in the judiciary. The attorney said he thinks his experience gives him a unique vantage point to help remedy that if selected to the Court of Appeals.

“We all have some kind of obligation to build that trust,” he explained. “I represented the state, the accused insurance companies, and injured people. Varieties of people from all over Indiana.”

Judge Lisa L. Swaim, Cass Superior Court 

When she faced a near-death experience shortly after her last Court of Appeals interview earlier this year, Cass Superior Judge Lisa L. Swaim said that she was even more determined to apply for the job.

“In the past few months, I could have easily died,” Swaim said of the accident. “When you look at that, it changes how you feel about everything. I came out knowing that if I had another opportunity to interview for the COA, I would try again.”

Swaim, the first woman prosecutor and judge in Cass County, said one accomplishment she is most proud of is the pre-trial release program her court created, which she said could be a model for the state. She said if selected for the Court of Appeals, she would face a learning curve in dealing with civil cases, as well as wills and trusts.

Carol N. Joven, Williams & Piatt LLC 

When asked to talk about her decade of experience with the Indianapolis Bar Association mentoring women and younger lawyers, Carol N. Joven of Williams & Piatt LLC said it has been a pleasure to watch young women grow and evolve their legal practices after using her as a soundboard for their concerns.

The strengths she would bring to the appellate bench, Joven said, would be the diversity of her professional experience. She also offers critical thinking, an ability to analyze the law, and effective communication.

“I have demonstrated that I have the ability to look at different areas of the law and to analyze legal issues and to communicate effectively, including through writing,” she said. “I think if there is one thing I need to work on, it’s marketing or promoting myself.”

Brad A. Catlin, Williams & Piatt LLC

What would satisfy attorney Brad A. Catlin of Williams & Piatt LLC as a human being would be to help other people and make sure that they have their day in court. He says he couldn’t scratch that itch in private practice like he could if he was on the Court of Appeals.

Catlin said that he is a good candidate for the appellate court because he has unique qualifications that include thinking as an appellate attorney and a private practitioner, among other things.

“I think my background gives a different point of view,” he said.

When asked about his pro bono work and why it’s so important to him, Catlin noted that so many Hoosier’s couldn’t receive legal help without it.

“Frankly, I think one of the biggest problems the legal system has is that it is really expensive for people to participate in,” Catlin said. “As a private practitioner you still have an operating business and can’t take very case that comes long. But sometimes you see situations that just call out for help.”

 Andrew R. Falk, Indiana Public Defender Commission

The quickest answer to improving the low number of attorneys in rural communities is increased funding, said Andrew R. Falk of the Indiana Public Defender Commission.

“But that is always in short supply,” he said.

One way to remedy that would be to encourage and educate young people and students about what he described as the “meaningful and worth-while endeavor of public service.” Falk said that while he has spent most of his time in criminal law, he considers himself more of an expert in the appellate process.

Judge Jennifer P. Harrison, Marion Superior Court

Before becoming a trial court judge, Marion Superior Judge Jennifer P. Harrison severed as a trial court practitioner for 10 years. She said it’s important for Court of Appeals judges to remember that trial court flavor when they are hearing cases.

After being asked about being the youngest applicant and having the least amount of experience, Harrison was quick to note that years wise on paper, it may look like she has less experience, but it’s important to remember she has seen things in her public defense work that many others haven’t.

When asked about what improvement could be made to Indiana’s competency evaluations, Harrison said that the system is currently overburdened with the rise of mental health issues in Indiana and the lack of resources.

“I think that’s the starting point that we can get to Hoosiers and get them involved in the mental health care before they come to me,” she said

Magistrate Judge Stephen R. Creason, Marion Circuit Court

In talking about his transition to the bench from serving as chief counsel for the Indiana Attorney General’s Office, Marion Circuit Court Magistrate Judge Stephen R. Creason said it’s been a lot harder than it seems based on the variety of cases he sees.

When litigants come before him, Creason said that he tries to disarm their nervousness by treating them kindly.

“It gives a confidence boost for them but it gives confidence that they are being heard,” he said.

When asked about the biggest challenges the legal profession will face in the next 10 years, Creason said access to justice and the financial cost of legal services are the heavy hitters. Both issues are linked to poverty, distrust in institutions and bad experiences with lawyers, he said.

“These are things people tell me when they come before me unrepresented,” Creason said. “If anyone knew what to do about this problem, we would have done it.”

Judge Ryan K. Gardner, Marion Superior Court

Serving on the Court of Appeals of Indiana has always been one of Marion Superior Court Judge Ryan K. Gardner’s dreams. Gardner said that he loves his current job and being able to sow into people’s lives in a positive way, but he is ready to take the next step in his professional career.

Gardner said he is very hands-on and encouraging of his staff to make sure they are equipped to move on in their careers if they’d like to advance. When it comes to encouraging youth to join the legal profession and dream big, Gardner said he tells them about his own path to the bench.

“Kids need to know that their circumstances don’t have to define them,” he said. “If you want my seat, you can have it. These things drive me. They make life worth living for me.”

Diversifying the appellate bench still needs to be addressed, he noted. Although trial courts across the state are looking more like the communities they serve, he says the COA does not.

“I think our judiciary is better when it reflects the community that it serves,” he said.

Judge Paul A. Felix, Hamilton Circuit Court

In describing his leadership style, Hamilton Circuit Court Judge Paul A. Felix said it’s important to always be prepared and to ensure people know that you just like them – simply a person.

“I think patience is very important,” he said. “As a judge, I’ve learned to let people on both sides present cases to you and listen to them patiently and carefully.”

Felix said that while he is lucky to be here today, he also worked hard to get where he is. He cited his painful and abusive childhood, and that he was lucky because he was able to find mentors, tutors and role models that allowed him to move in the direction of success. That’s why he’s involved in serving in similar roles to help kids out of challenging situations.

“With my experience on the trial court bench, I can move all of that into the appellate court and offer those skills and desires on a statewide basis,” he said.

 Judge Marc T. Rothenberg, Marion Superior Court

When people think about the assuming the role of a judge, Marion Superior Court Judge Marc T. Rothenberg said some see the job for its paycheck or for the ability to serve, as a promotion tool or a stepping stone. But he sees it as a conduit to contribute to his community and state.

“I can, so I must,” he said.

Rothenberg talked about his heavy involvement in the planning and building of the Indianapolis-Marion County Community Justice Center. His guiding principles for the process was transparency, clarity and consistency.

“That is the biggest administrative accomplishment I have ever attempted and certainly ever completed, it still goes on to this day,” he said about the new facility. “When we planned that building prior to the pandemic, we looked at what if the streaming does come along? We built the court with that in mind. And now it is happening.”

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