Let’s keep the state of the bench and bar sound

Several customs and traditions about the Indiana State Bar Association presidency offer once-in-a-lifetime experiences. The most recent of those experiences was my privilege to attend Indiana Chief Justice Loretta Rush’s first State of the Judiciary address to the Indiana General Assembly last Wednesday. Aside from the momentous honor of witnessing the delivery of that speech by the first female chief justice of Indiana, the occasion made me think deeply about the times in which we live.

Just before the staff ushered me to my seat in the House of Representatives gallery to witness the State of the Judicary, two conversations and a photograph framed Chief Justice Rush’s speech in a remarkable historic context for me. First, Indiana Court of Appeals Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik and I discussed the Indiana Lawyer article about the emergence of Chief Judge Vaidik, Chief Justice Rush, Indiana Tax Court Judge Martha Blood Wentworth, and Southern District of Indiana Chief Bankruptcy Judge Robyn Moberly as some of Indiana’s leading jurists. Moments later, Indiana Supreme Court Justice Steven David took me into the Supreme Court robing room and showed me a photograph of Antoinette Dakin Leach, the pioneering Sullivan County lawyer who successfully appealed the Greene County Bar’s denial of her petition for admission to practice and became the first woman admitted to practice before the Indiana Supreme Court in 1894.

Chief Justice Rush’s speech and my conversations with Justice David and Chief Judge Vaidik impressed three things upon me over the afternoon’s course: (1) the progress that Indiana’s female lawyers and judges have achieved over the past 121 years, (2) the need for technological innovation in the bench and bar, and (3) the constant necessity for the bench and bar to evolve rapidly.

I wondered what Ms. Leach would think about the ascension of our Chief Justice of Indiana, Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals, Tax Court Judge, and Chief Southern District Bankruptcy Judge; as well as the rise of Lieutenant Governor Sue Ellspermann, Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson, and Indiana State Auditor Suzanne Crouch. I also wondered what Ms. Leach would think about female bar leaders such as my own successor, Carol Adinamis, who will become Indiana State Bar Association’s third female President in October; James C. Kimbrough Bar Association President Renee Hatcher; Marion County Bar Association President-Elect Roxana Bell; Evansville Bar Association President Laura Scott; and Lake County Bar Association President-Elect Jacqueline Pillar King. The bench and bar have room for much more improvement, but mounting evidence of progressive diversity and inclusiveness surrounds us.

Just before the Chief Justice’s announcement of an impending upgrade of our statewide court technology system in her address, Indiana Court of Appeals Judge Paul Mathias asked to discuss details with me about that upgrade. He briefed me on the Indiana Judicial Conference’s detailed plan to expand the Odyssey system with statewide digital case management, records storage, and online filing (E-filing) to serve the bench, bar, and public more effectively and less costly than the federal courts’ Pacer system. Judge Mathias and I agree that Indiana’s judges and lawyers need to help the Judicial Conference push this ball over the line and usher our courts into the current age.

The Chief Justice’s description of Indiana’s new and emerging problem-solving courts spawned my third impression. I told a group of lawyers in a speech at New Albany a couple of weeks ago to expect increasing difficulty in attracting clients to seek traditional legal services as everyone gains access to vast legal research and forms libraries on handheld devices. Our survival in the technological revolution demands innovative investments of creative thought, initiative, and money. Our judicial leadership has plunged into the same evolutionary stream by developing specialized problem-solving courts for juveniles, families, veterans, and businesses.

Indiana’s judges and lawyers must invest today in the construction and maintenance of an inclusive, adaptive, and enduring legal profession for the future. I invite Indiana’s judges and lawyers to join the investment by more than 12,000 members of the Indiana State Bar Association in the sound state of the bench and bar for the prosperity of our progeny.

One comment on “Let’s keep the state of the bench and bar sound

  1. Jeff R. Hawkins
    January 18, 2015 at 10:39 pm #

    Footnote: I recognize that I probably omitted references to several current female bar leaders, such as Indianapolis Bar Association’s President-Elect, the Honorable Robyn Moberly, but my intent is to offer a few examples of recent advances by women in the bench and bar.

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