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Monday, March 20, 2017

Ind. Courts - "State again in search of jurist for high court"

Niki Kelly of the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette has a good lengthy story today on changes to the Indiana Supreme Court. Some quotes:

With just seven years under his belt, Justice Steven David is the old-timer on the Indiana Supreme Court.

In 2010 he kicked off a carousel of arrivals as he replaced former Justice Theodore Boehm.

Three more new justices followed – Mark Massa in April 2012, Loretta Rush in November 2012 and Geoffrey Slaughter in June 2016.

Now the Judicial Nominating Commission begins interviewing Monday for a fifth new justice – replacing retiring Justice Robert Rucker, whose last day is in May.

The result is a wholesale change in the Indiana Supreme Court in just seven years. * * *

The overhaul is pretty novel though muted a bit because Indiana has only five justices while 35 states have between 7 and 9.

While all the justices on the court have decades in the legal profession, their institutional knowledge of the state’s highest court is slim.

“There’s a yin and a yang to turnover. Institutional memory is a valuable commodity,” said Randall T. Shepard, who served on the court from 1985 to 2012, the majority as chief justice.

He was part of the longest-tenured group of five justices together – serving from 1999 to 2010. Court staff at the time researched the feat and had a Hershey bar made with the likeness of the five members’ faces.

“So we went from total stability to all new people. That contast is stark,” said Joel Schumm, professor of law at Indiana University’s Indianapolis campus.

“That being said I don’t think it’s made a huge difference. The fear in a court turnover in a short period of time is they will dramatically change the way they rule. That hasn’t happened.”

Rucker’s departure also brings another distinction – the first time since 1958 that all five members of the court will have been appointed by governors of the same political party.

Mitch Daniels picked three of the current members, Mike Pence had one appointment and Gov. Eric Holcomb will get his first selection in the next few months. * * *

One thing that has changed with the court is that each justice has become more involved in the administration of the court, rather than the Chief Justice carrying all the weight.

Some justices focus on technology issues; others juvenile justice, public access or pro bono work.

[Chief Justice Loretta] Rush said the court takes 90-100 cases a year, though it disposes or votes on almost 900. The vast majority are votes to not accept transfer – or keep a lower court ruling intact.

Some see a move to more family law cases rather than complex civil. But the tenor of the court has remained the same, Schumm said.

Much of its work is behind the scenes – handling attorney and judge discipline; writing rules for all Indiana courts to operate under and licensing new attorneys.

But it’s the opinions that get the attention. Generally, the Indiana Supreme Court is known to uphold state law. A few reversals recently have gotten attention though.

One moved the burden regarding bail from the defendant – making the state prove why the defendant should be denied bail.

Another was a major asbestos case in which Rush’s dissent now seems particularly poignant.

“I cannot say it is so clearly wrong or unjust to warrant upending an issue we have already settled – when nothing has changed since 2003 but a third vote for the opposing view,” she wrote. “I am particularly conscious of our changing composition, both in the recent past and in the near future. And in turn, I am particularly aware of what our actions imply when our narrowly divided Court reverses itself on an issue that, barely a decade ago, narrowly divided us in the opposite direction,” she said.

ILB: This was a March 2, 2016 opinion - see ILB summary here.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on March 20, 2017 10:07 AM
Posted to Indiana Courts | Vacancy on Supreme Court - 2017