Chief Justice Loretta Rush settled into a chair in the Indiana Supreme Court’s quiet law library Wednesday afternoon to discuss the health and status of the high court.
Long story short, she implied, the courts have been busy.
The state’s chief justice gave reporters an inside scoop on the status of Indiana Supreme Court during a review of its annual report, calling 2021-2022 a “bounce-back” year.
The Indiana judiciary has faced many changes and challenges, she said, ranging from the continued battle with COVID-19 and mental health concerns permeating the criminal justice system to the retirement of longtime Justice Steven David and the ascension of his successor, Justice Derek Molter.
The 65-page annual report, released Friday, highlights the data, milestones and important projects of the high court for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2022.
During that year, the justices received 634 cases, heard 37 oral arguments and handed down 56 majority opinions out of 81 total opinions. Each justice wrote a nearly equal number of opinions — nine each for Rush, David and justices Mark Massa and Christopher Goff and eight for Justice Geoffrey Slaughter — in addition to 12 per curiam opinions.
Following significant dips in case filings as a result of the pandemic, Rush said Indiana courts are starting to see a more normal intake heading into the new year.
The chief justice noted that due to the lack of jury trials during the pandemic, many criminal cases did not make their way to the high court. Those cases typically make up a significant number of the court’s caseload, she said.
The 634 cases received in the last fiscal year were a drop from the 724 cases received in fiscal year 2020-2021 and 913 cases in 2019-2020. In FY 2021-2022, the court received 286 criminal cases, down from 363 and 481 in the two fiscal years prior.
But, Rush added, “I do see the numbers coming back up.”
Although the court’s caseload went down, the chief justice said the administrative arm of the judiciary has ramped up to help keep the courts operational.
Another interesting point, Rush noted, was the increase in judicial discipline matters. The Indiana Judicial Qualifications Commission received 609 complaints of judicial misconduct in FY 2021-2022.
The JQC required judges in 51 cases to respond to allegations or conducted formal inquires or investigations, up from 38 cases the previous fiscal year.
Rush said there is more to the issue of judicial discipline than what meets the eye.
“The judges are telling me the people are angry at institutions,” she said. “But you are also looking at the wellness issues with judges trying to work their way out of backlogs.”
Bar passage rates spiked to 72% for FY 2020-2021, which included the open book bar exam administered in August 2020. In the most recent fiscal year — which included Indiana’s first administration of the Uniform Bar Exam in July 2021 — the passage rate was 65%.
The chief justice said she is still concerned about bar passage rates despite the spike.
However, the chief justice said she doesn’t see much impact on the bar passage rate in Indiana following the introduction of the Uniform Bar Exam.
“We as a court are talking now about ways to look five, 10 years down the road with attorney shortages, and bar passages rates is definitely part of that,” she said. “It’s a balance. You want to make sure you have a competent bar and you want to make sure to have (enough) people who can represent litigants.”
Other notable findings from the annual report include:
- More than 8 million documents were electronically filed statewide in FY 2021-2022.
- More 9 million users viewed mycase.in.gov, with 52.8 million total page views.
- Creation of the Attorney Dashboard on mycase.in.gov.
- Commission on Equity and Access and Eviction Task Force created.
- More than 60,000 requests for help addressed by Office of Court Technology.
- Nearly 32,000 hours of livestreamed trial court hearings.
- More than 23,000 children served by CASA advocates.
- Five trial court and two appellate court vacancies filled through merit selection.
- More than 1,200 hours of education delivered to judicial officers and justice system stakeholders.
The full report is available online.