We are starting a new feature in Court Times called “Sidebar” that will highlight up close and personal a member of the Indiana Judiciary. Morgan Superior Court Judge Jane Spencer Craney is our first interview. She was first elected as Judge in November 1990 and in this most recent election she was elected to her fourth term on the bench. Prior to becoming a Judge she served two terms as Morgan County Prosecuting Attorney.
What do you like most, and least, about being a trial court judge?
I enjoy being a trial judge because I am a “people person” and so far the most rewarding part of being a judge has been helping people overcome addiction problems. When someone comes to you later and says you helped them to start a clean and sober life, it’s a pretty awesome feeling. My least favorite duty is ordering evictions, especially during the holidays and in the recent economy.
Why did you decide to study law?
My first conscious career choice (5th grade) was to be the first female astronaut only to discover (7th grade) that I had little scientific aptitude. My natural talents seemed to be in writing, public speaking and debate, and I loved to watch old Perry Mason reruns after school, so I decided on law as a career.
What was your major at Hanover College?
My major at Hanover was Political Science with a “minor” in Theatre. Hanover didn’t have “minors” but I was a few credits short of a double major. My sister used to tell people I was going to be a dramatic politician.
What would you do if you were not a judge?
If I were not a Judge, I would probably be a political science/history teacher/professor or professional community volunteer. My family felt strongly that you give back to your community so I would volunteer more time to Habitat for Humanity and Rotary.
What do you like to do when you are not on the bench?
When I am not on the bench I am usually dancing because I am totally addicted to ballroom dancing now. I also enjoy gardening, traveling, entertaining and reading. Many of my fellow Judges refer to me as the Hospitality Queen of the Indiana judiciary because I have catered several of the Hospitality Rooms at our conferences and the CCJ/COSCA conference a few years ago.
Who are the people you most admire (besides the Chief Justice)?
I admire many people, including the Chief Justice, but Mother Teresa and Abraham Lincoln would probably top the list.
What are your favorite books and have you read any recently or reading now that you really like?
I love to read so picking a “favorite” would be difficult. I just finished reading To Kill a Mockingbird and will now start on John Grisham’s The Appeal. Legal novels and historical biographies, such as David McCullough’s John Adams, are my favorite types of books.
Where did you grow up and how would you describe your childhood?
I grew up in North Manchester, Indiana (Wabash County), my Mother’s hometown. My childhood was wonderful—growing up in a small college town has many advantages including a very good school system and cultural events. Both of my parents were aficionados of musical theatre/theatre so we attended many performances at Manchester College and the Wagon Wheel Playhouse, a summer stock theatre company in Warsaw, Indiana. We also traveled a great deal during my youth.
When and how did you develop your interest in travel?
My Father was a big believer in the educational value of travel based on something a visiting professor from Germany said to him. (It’s an interesting story that I love to tell.) That, coupled with the fact that he was from Vermont, gave me the opportunity to travel a great deal in the US, Canada, Mexico and Europe before I even graduated from high school. I was an exchange student to the Netherlands for Youth for Understanding between my Junior and Senior year in high school and have returned several times to visit my Dutch family and still have contact with them. I also studied in France and Switzerland during college. My husband and I have hosted Rotary exchange students from Holland and France. We also make sure other exchange students to Martinsville get to see a bit of the US when we take them on our travels. My husband is an airline pilot for American Airlines so I still get to travel when I can.
Do you have a favorite quote?
My two favorite quotes are from the British orator, philosopher and politician, Edmund Burke, about responsibility, and an English barrister, Sir Edward Hall, about the similarities between the theatre and courtroom advocacy.
“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”
“My profession and that of an actor are somewhat alike, except that I have no scenes to help me, and no words are written for me to say. There is no curtain. But out of a vivid, living dream of someone else’s life, I create an atmosphere and that …that is advocacy.”
Sir Edward Marshall Hall
When and why did you take up dancing?
My husband and I started lessons at Arthur Murray 3 years ago. We were so bad at dancing at our first son’s wedding that we HAD to get better for the second son’s wedding! I just graduated from Bronze Four (there are 4 levels) into Silver One (which also has 4 levels.)
What is on your Life List and how many items do you have left to check off?
As far as a Life List, I am still adding to it, but it definitely includes traveling around the world and to each continent. The Dancing with the Stars Preshow was on the list for the last 3 years. Check!
Where is your favorite vacation spot?
My favorite vacation spot is my family’s cabin in the woods near Cadillac, Michigan.
What is your favorite meal/recipe/restaurant?
There was a hotel in my Mother’s family for over a hundred years so I actually grew up in the kitchen. I have too many favorite foods and restaurants to choose just one. Chocolate would probably be involved! My favorite recipe would probably be my Hot Crab Dip.