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Monday, August 25, 2014

Ind. Courts - "New Supreme Court chief is children’s fiercest advocate"

Great column this weekend, here in the New Albany News & Tribune, written by CNHI's Maureen Hayden:

INDIANAPOLIS — Loretta Rush was already well known around the Statehouse — especially among tour guides — before she was sworn in as the first female chief justice of Indiana’s Supreme Court.

Rush, who was first appointed to the court in late 2012, is a walker and a talker. It’s common to see her taking laps around the third-floor atrium outside her chambers while reading a legal brief, or popping into the courtroom to greet visiting schoolchildren.

The longtime juvenile court judge has an affinity for children. She suspects what they’re thinking as they look around the somber courtroom with its heavy, dark-paneled walls and portraits of 107 almost all-male justices who came before her.

“It’s important for kids to see that we’re real,” Rush said. “You walk into that courtroom and what you see are those pictures of old, frowning guys.”

One day, as she greeted a class of fourth-graders, she heard two small voices ring out: “You were our judge!”

The voices belonged to two boys whom Rush knew. She was the juvenile court judge who oversaw their rescue from an abusive home and who later approved their adoption to loving parents.

Delighted to see them again, Rush invited them into her chambers. There, above her desk, were their pictures — part of a collage of photos of children who’d come before her, under the worst of circumstances, when she presided over cases involving abused, neglected and unwanted children.

The collage is still there. When asked about it, Rush remembers what she told those boys: “You’re famous now. You’re in the Statehouse. You are really important, and when you get through school, we’ll need good leaders like you. Part of you is already here.”

When the Judicial Nominating Commission vetted Rush for the chief’s role, she was asked if she could handle the demands of family and the job. The committee screened four sitting justices. She was the only one asked that question.

Rush diplomatically answered that work-life balance is a challenge for all of her colleagues.

It’s not that she shies from the topic. Rush, 56, is a mother of four — three grown and one at home — and a fierce advocate for children.

As an associate justice, she played a key role in creating the Commission on Improving the Status of Children in Indiana. One of her first tasks as chief was to appoint her predecessor, Justice Brent Dickson, to lead a committee to look into pre-trial decisions made by courts and their impact on families.

She worries, for example, that routinely arresting someone for failing to appear after they’ve been summoned to court, then ordering them to pay a $500 bond to get out of jail, has unintended consequences on people who can least afford it.

“We’ve got a lot of families in Indiana holding it together by a thread,” she said. It doesn’t take much, she added, “before that thread is gone.”

She knows courts can adjust. While on the bench back in Tippecanoe County, she held a weekly night court so defendants wouldn’t lose a day’s pay. She held truancy court at 7:30 a.m. so errant students wouldn’t miss another school day.

Rush longs for a day when it’s not news for a woman to head the state’s high court.

But for now, she embraces the role.

In greeting children in that historic courtroom, she’ll often point out the portrait of Justice Leonard Hackney. In 1893, he wrote the opinion that said women could practice law in Indiana, even though they weren’t allowed to vote.

“See him,” she’ll say. “He was brave. He started the process that got me here.”

Posted by Marcia Oddi on August 25, 2014 11:31 AM
Posted to Indiana Courts