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Monday, November 23, 2015

Ind. Courts - "Justice Dickson reflects on judges, judging, growing up in Hobart"

Dan Carden reports this weekend for the NWI Times that he:

... spoke with Dickson a few hours after his retirement announcement about his tenure on the Supreme Court, the role of judges and what impact growing up in Northwest Indiana had on his life. * * *

What is your proudest accomplishment during your tenure?

"It's not so much what I've accomplished, it's what the court has accomplished. We've had a marvelous run of wonderful people working together very well. The court is known nationwide for its collegiality, for the fact that we are able to get along even when we disagree, and do it respecting each other, and hopefully sending out signals to the bar that lawyers can be very civil to each other and still be passionate about what they believe. That's probably the thing that I'm most proud about." * * *

What is your approach to interpreting the Constitution?

"It should be interpreted as written. My view is that it was written with a capacity to be amended and if citizens want to change it, we can amend it. That's the magic of it. But it shouldn't be interpreted and changed by judges. It should only be changed by the citizens that enacted it and there's a process to do that. I think that's the more reliable way. It makes the laws of society based upon not what an individual judge here or there thinks is more fair or better or better social policy, it says we follow the law. If we need to change the law to fit a changing perspective on social policy, then change the law."

How do oral arguments affect court decisions?

"It is rare that the performance of the lawyer makes or breaks a case. It is mostly the facts of the case and the client's situation that determines what we do. It's not whether the lawyer makes a mistake on argument. But I can say there are many times where we come out of argument and we'll go back into the conference room and somebody will have their mind changed by something that came up during the argument.

"One of the things we like to do, especially as a court of last resort, is to ask lawyers to help us look into the future. If we decide the case the way they want, how will it happen in the future with other people's cases? How will it affect the law? How will it affect the Legislature? We often ask questions exploring these kinds of issues. It's usually those kinds of questions that give us pause when we get back in the conference room, and things may be not quite as clear as they were when we walked into that oral argument."

What qualities do you want in your replacement on the Supreme Court?

"I hope that whoever succeeds me is someone who brings a high degree of collegiality and respect for their colleagues, somebody for whom the process and how we do things is just as important as the result. Somebody who doesn't have a take-no-prisoners ideological world view, but instead has a principled, and hopefully a faith-based view, but one that is willing to interact with their colleagues and be respectful and be collegial. We sit around the table and are extremely open to each others' ideas.

"I also hope we have somebody who is really aware of how the law and the courts affect the citizens of Indiana. For me, it was valuable to come right from private practice where I was interacting with clients all the time and seeing how our statutes and our laws and our case decisions sometimes had good, sometimes had bad, effects on people's lives. Bringing that experience to bear as a member of the court of last resort is, I think, crucial, and I hope my successor has that. I hope they're somebody who trusts juries and believes in juries and our jury trial system — they get it right 99 percent of the time."

Do you support Indiana's merit selection process (instead of elections) for new justices?

"It's a terrific system. ... Every 10 years you don't spend the last year campaigning. People who come into court don't have to worry that their opponent has given more money to the judge than they have. People can have confidence in the judiciary. Judges don't have to appeal to lawyers to finance their campaign. In every way you look at it, in terms of public confidence in the judiciary and fair and unbiased decision-making, it's the best system we've come up with so far.

"And yet every 10 years, there's an opportunity to get rid of a bad apple if you've got someone you need to get rid of. They're not in for life necessarily."

How did growing up in Northwest Indiana shape your point of view as a lawyer and judge?

* * * I went to Purdue to be a nuclear physicist, not to be a lawyer. I tell people the most influential course I took was integral calculus, because it taught me the limitations of my mental abilities, and so I became a lawyer."

Posted by Marcia Oddi on November 23, 2015 12:59 PM
Posted to Indiana Courts