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Monday, August 11, 2014

Ind. Courts - Some stories about Indiana's new Chief Justice

"Chief justice with local ties a 'cool thing'" is the heading to Rachel E. Sheeley's Aug. 8th story in the Richmond Palladium-Item. Some quotes:

Members of the local legal community think it is good for Wayne County and for Indiana that Richmond High School graduate Loretta Hogan Rush has been elected chief justice of the Indiana Supreme Court.

The newest and only female member of the state Supreme Court will replace Brent Dickson, a 28-year Supreme Court veteran who has served as chief justice since 2012.

"I just think it's fabulous. That's such a cool thing for Richmond," said Superior Court No. 3 Judge Darrin Dolehanty. "She's a top-notch lady." * * *
[Superior Court No. 1 Judge Charles K. Todd Jr.], who serves on the Commission for Continuing Legal Education, said he has met with Rush through commission functions and other events. He said he thinks it is great for the area to have her as chief justice.

"She's a very upbeat individual. She's dedicated to task and work and passionate about what she does," Todd said. "You can tell she's cut her teeth as a trial court judge. ... I firmly believe she'll continue those same great qualities in the leadership of the court."

Rush worked in Tippecanoe County for 15 years as an attorney and 14 as a juvenile court judge, and was appointed to the Supreme Court by then-Gov. Mitch Daniels in September 2012.

From a Fort Wayne Journal Gazette editorial published Aug. 8th:
“Chief Justice Loretta Rush” has a nice ring to it. More important, the Indiana's highest court now has a nice contrast to the all-male institution it represented for 13 years. Its new leadership presents a more progressive, inclusive face for the state.

Rush, a former Tippecanoe County juvenile court judge, becomes the 20th female chief justice of a state supreme court. She was selected to succeed Chief Justice Brent Dickson after less than two years on the court – the first female justice since Myra Selby stepped down in 1999.

For those who believe gender or race is immaterial in the court's makeup, consider that Rush's area of expertise is cases involving children – certainly not the exclusive territory of female jurists, but an important part of the law in which the previous court did not have an experienced judge. Rush shows a heart and passion for the difficult work.

“I thought that (children) were the least represented, or had the least rights that were set forth in court,” she told the Purdue Exponent earlier this year. “So I saw the need. The need is just so pressing, and it's just as pressing now as it was when I started working with children in the legal system 25 years ago.”

The judge once had a collection of photos of children involved in her cases covering the bench in her Lafayette courtroom. When it outgrew the surface, she transferred them to a large canvas on display in her office as reminder of the “importance of the law in protecting children in the system.”

In addition to her duties on the Supreme Court, Rush has served as chair of the Commission on Improving the Status of Children in Indiana, a panel created after James Payne's troubled tenure as first director of the Department of Child Services. The commission includes the top administrators of the public agencies with oversight of the state's children.

The commission's work, at Rush's direction, is one step in correcting the disproportionate attention that economic considerations have commanded at the state level – at the expense of health, safety, education and family issues.

In her work for the Supreme Court, Rush's perspective enhances opinions that an all-male court could not produce for the very fact that it lacked a female perspective. Justice might be blind, but gender biases inevitably shape views in many cases. At the end of her first year on the court, one legal scholar remarked that the new justice had “wowed the legal community and beyond with her thoughtfully crafted and impactful opinions, incisive questions at oral argument and her many speaking engagements and administrative work.”

Rush's unanimous selection as chief justice should remind Hoosiers that, given the opportunity, women and minorities often prove to be the best suited for a job.

From Lesley Weidenbener's Sunday column in the Louisville Courier Journal:
INDIANAPOLIS – The state will have its first female chief justice later this month when Loretta Rush takes over for Brent Dickson, who is stepping down from the position.

A nominating panel picked Rush over three colleagues last week to serve as the state's top judge.

The panel's members were adamant that her gender had no bearing on their decision. Jean Northenor of Warsaw, the only woman on the seven-member nominating commission, said Rush was the best among a group of great candidates.

Even Rush dismissed the historic nature of her appointment. She said she looks "forward to the day that it's unremarkable that there is a woman on this court or a woman chief justice."

But the move is an important one. Rush is the only female on the state's highest court, even though women make up nearly 51 percent of the state's population. And the number of women in law schools has been increasing as well; nearly half are now women.

That matters because there are differences in the way men and women think and the issues they face in their lives. Female plaintiffs and defendants whose cases come before the Indiana Supreme Court should have representation on the court, just as men should have.

That's not to say that female judges will side with women or that male jurists side with men. Instead, it means that the state's highest courts — and its court system generally — should be at least somewhat representative of the population it judges. Women, men, minorities and Hoosiers of varying economic status should be represented in the judicial system.

And that's not been one of Indiana's strengths.

As of 2013, less than one quarter of all Indiana judges were women. That compares to about 29 percent nationally, according to the National Association of Women Judges.

Indiana falls behind the nation largely when it comes to local courts, where 27 percent of judges nationwide are women but roughly 21 percent of Circuit and Superior court judges are female in Indiana. In the appellate courts, Indiana matches the national average with women serving in about one-third of all positions.

Still, when it comes to the Indiana Supreme Court, women have had little representation. Rush was just the second woman ever to serve on the court when she was appointed nearly two years ago by then-Gov. Mitch Daniels. Before that, there hadn't been a female justice since Myra Selby left the bench in 1999 after serving four years.

Putting Rush into a position as the Indiana court system's most prominent— and most public — judge could start to change those statistics. Rush will serve as chair of the Judicial Nominating Commission, which chooses the finalists for all appellate court positions. And she's promised to put a face on the court, one that could encourage more women to seek judicial appointments.

That makes Rush's appointment important for Indiana — not only because she's a woman, but because she represents diversification and growth in the larger court system.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on August 11, 2014 09:34 AM
Posted to Indiana Courts