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Friday, June 08, 2012

Indiana Courts - Report on the seminar: "Demystifying the Judicial Selection Process"

Yesterday afternoon I attended the 1.5 hour CLE on "Demystifying the Judicial Selection Process" put on by the ISBA. These are my notes.

Michele Cooley, Chair of the ISBA Women in Law Committee, introduced and moderated the session.

This was a very worthwhile event. All the presenters were very engaging and collegial, and as you will see below, had much information to impact to those considering applying to the Court of Appeals or Supreme Court in the future. I hope it will become an annual event. A copy of the agenda is available here.

(I also noticed the event was being videorecorded by the ISBA.)

Two former Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) members, John Trimble, who was an attorney member elected by the state bar, and Christine Keck, who was a citizen member appointed by Gov. Daniels, discussed "The View from Inside the JNC." Both served 3-year terms and sat together on the JNC panel during 2010.

Trimble - What does JNC look for? Someone who is "judicial." This involves temperament, demeanor, bearing.

Keck - Intelligence, skill in their field, ability to express oneself, breadth of legal and life experience, collegiality, wisdom (meaning wise, not just intelligent, answers).

Keck stressed that your qualifications are in your application packet, there is no need to reemphasize them during your interview, it just cuts into your time to answer the members' questions.

Trimble - You get a sense in reading the application beforehand (and the members do thoroughly read each application) who will likely fall in the "no" pile and who will be in the "yes." But the interview could change that, either way.

Trimble urged applicants to do a mock interview. He said we ask the same basic questions over and over (ILB - especially in the 1st round). You can go online and find these questions, he said.

Trimble said that with regard to political party affiliation, the members of the JNC did not have this information with either of the 2010 openings. (ILB - that was the 2010 Supreme Court and Tax Court vacancies. This year the ILB has heard that some members of the JNC did have the primary voting records of the applicants.)

Hon. Jane Magnus-Stinson, SD Indiana federal court judge, was a former counsel to Gov. Bayh and spoke on the view from inside the Governor's office.

She said she learned the lesson about not going over your qualifications the hard way, "I droned on about my qualifications." Later, she said, the Chairman called and told her "Don't ever do that again."

She said one should also learn that average speech is about 170 word/minute and you should plan your presentation accordingly.

Magnus-Stinson said that as the Governor's counsel she knew the political party of every candidate. "It hasn't happened yet that a governor has appointed outside his party."

She said the application is a great map for you. You want to show that you are someone who has tried to continually grow within your profession, that you are involved, engaged, and have a good reputation.

Re letters of support, they should show what people in your community think of you - thoughtful letters explaining how they know you and your great experiences.

Magnus-Stinson said the Governor's office would communicate with its citizen JNC members during the process to make sure they heard whatever had been communicated to the Governor's office about the applicants.

If you are not political, can you make it, asked Magnus-Stinson. She said it can happen, but not often. She said political involvement at the highest level you can be involved in is important, helpful, but not mandatory. But, she added, people generally just don't apply if they are not of the Governor's party.

Re recommendations, Magnus-Stinson said figure out your "Kevin Bacon first degree of separation" and have that person support you -- on whom does the Governor rely on for advice -- do you have a connection to that person and can they recommend you? Bar leaders are also important supporters.

Kiply S. Drew, IU counsel who was a 2010 semi-finalist candidate for the Supreme Court, and Hon. Martha Wentworth, who was appointed Judge of the Indiana Tax Court in 2010, spoke on their perspectives in going through the process.

Drew - I was a nontraditional candidate in that I had been in the counsel's office at IU for the last 18 years. She said she had never thought of applying until "my dad told me to." She said she totally enjoyed the whole experience.

Wentworth - I worked in an accounting firm and had not practiced law in court for the last 13 years, although she had gone before administrative agencies. She said she was also nontraditional in that she was 62 when she applied, only 9 years younger than Judge Fisher, who was retiring. She had clerked for Judge Fisher earlier in her career.

Wentworth said she and Kip both really enjoyed the process. Both had thin applications, as neither had written briefs in years. She urged applicants to get a new picture, "one that looks like you." She related that she had kept active in the law and in the bar even while at the CPA firm, published articles, etc. She said she had a Republican voting record, but was never that active.

Drew - The idea of putting the application online blew me away. Knowing it will be online makes you look at it in a different way. Re "negotiating with your employer," she said her employer, the IU general counsel, was fine with it.

In general discussion, moderated by Michele Cooley:

Christine Keck of the 2010 JNC said that as a lay person on the JNC, "it was very important to me that I be well prepared and asked relevant questions."

Judge Wentworth said that she had felt an affinity to Ms. Keck during the interviews, as Ms. Keck was the only woman on the JNC at the time. Judge Magnus-Stinson added that it is very important for applicants to communicate with the lay members during the interviews, as well as the attorneys. "It is a balancing act." Ms. Keck added that a big mistake would be coming across as arrogant - the "you wouldn't understand ..." attitude, to the lay members.

Drew re preparation - you have an opportunity to look at the other applicants' applications, from the perspective, for instance of --- okay, I haven't been a judge, so what do I have to offer the JNC? Also, she related that her husband was a career clerk for one of the COAs judges, so she thought through her answer to the "for certain" question of whether that would be a conflict.

Wentworth urged young people to start keeping track of their career events early. She also said that she was recently at an event with tables of women lawyers, but when she asked for a show of hands on who might apply for the court, not one responded. She did not know if this meant they were afraid to admit interest in front of colleagues, or something else. She urged that women should be good mentors and teach that one didn't have to give up work/life balance to achieve success.

In the interviews, she said, be patient, listen, take time in answering, get there early, ask if I've answered your question, and then, lastly, shut up.

In answer to a question about her interest in the Sullivan vacancy, Ms. Drew said, "nothing in my first experience would prevent me from applying again."

In answer to a question about whether the JNC takes diversity into account, Trimble said that CJ Shepard's position was the JNC looked for the "most qualified," but that diversity was important to the JNC.

Judge Magnus-Stinson said Gov. Bayh considered diversity to be a qualification.

Q- Did you really look at people's grades? Ms. Keck said absolutely.

Re whether clerkships were important, attorney Trimble said yes. Keck said no, as a citizen member clerkship was low on her list because as a lay person she didn't really understand what it meant. Judge M-S said clerkship is a big deal in the federal system.

Re preparation for the court, Mr. Trimble said that he didn't consider Ms. Drew to have had a "nontraditional" background, and he said that Wentworth had been "as engaged in the law as I am."

Re content and number of letters of recommendation: Trimble - we want meaningful letters. He also noted that some of the applicants who hadn't made the second round for the 2010 Supreme Court vacancy had written letters of support for then-Judge David, which had impressed Trimble. He said good letters reveal character or wisdom.

Re commissioners meeting with candidates beforehand, there seemed to be no real consensus.

Participants reminded the viewers that the interviews are public. It was noted that some candidates brought their spouses and children to watch.

Re sensitive questions, Trimble said that if the JNC didn't ask a question it was often because we didn't want to embarrass the applicant (ILB - one candidate in 2010 for instance was in the process of a disciplinary proceeding), but that it might have been better if they had brought potential issues up themselves.

Q - does the JNC look at things such as there are three former prosecutors on the Supreme Court and maybe we should try to balance that? Trimble - we did look at that but collegiality was most important to us.

Q - Did the CJ set the tone? Trimble - (Shepard in 2010) set the tone but didn't influence the members in making the choices. Re deciding how many go to the second round, Trimble said the members rank all the applicants and set the line where there is consensus.

Q re geographical diversity - not that important.

Re who to name as contacts on your application, Magnus-Stinson said to do it strategically. Try if you can to select people who JNC members know and are likely to call, in the office down the hall from them, or a neighbor of a citizen member.

(ILB: Here are the materials from the seminar: the relevant provisions of the Indiana Constitution and statutes, a "judicial application checklist," sample interview questions and other resources of interest.)

Posted by Marcia Oddi on June 8, 2012 05:39 AM
Posted to Indiana Courts | Vacancy #2 on Supreme Court 2012