Editor’s Note: On Jan. 23, 2013, Chief Justice Brent E. Dickson delivered his first State of the Judiciary address to a Joint Session of the Indiana General Assembly. An excerpted version slightly modified due to space limitations follows. The State of the Judiciary was broadcast to a statewide audience over the Internet and on radio and television through Indiana Public Broadcasting Stations. Video of the speech and the full text of the 2013 address are available online. For all addresses since 1988, visit courts.in.gov/judiciary/supreme/2338.htm
To a Joint Session of the Indiana General Assembly
What a profound honor it is to appear before the Indiana General Assembly, in these historic chambers. Just being in this Statehouse continues to inspire me despite walking these halls for over 27 years now. This building constantly reminds me of the greatness of our State and its people, and of the privilege and responsibility of public service.
The Indiana Supreme Court has just been through a massive change recently. Both former Chief Justice Randy Shepard and Justice Frank Sullivan retired, as did Justice Ted Boehm just two years ago. After ten years of constancy, we now have a new Chief Justice, but also a 60% turnover with the appointments of Justices Steve David, Mark Massa, and Loretta Rush. Despite the change, we intend the “new” court will be a continuance, and even an enhancement, of all things admired in the “old” one.
The Indiana Constitution directs me to report to you on “the condition of the courts.” It is clear to me this “condition of the courts” is so much a product of your efforts, in helping to create the high quality judiciary in which we take such pride. The Court has a rich and vibrant connection to the legislature—from the Indiana statutes that often form the bedrock for appellate decisions, to the many legislative commissions that include the judiciary, to the array of special responsibilities and programs you have assigned us, and to your support and funding for our operations.
When I was appointed to the Indiana Supreme Court in 1986, it was a different place. A few civil cases were sprinkled in among our direct review of criminal cases—which consumed over 93% of our docket.
Thanks to two constitutional amendments adjusting the nature of the Court’s jurisdiction, the Supreme Court has been able to provide serious review and to oversee Indiana law in all kinds of cases, criminal and civil, large and small.
In non-criminal cases, the Court was able to tackle issues such as child support and laws involving families, taxes, the Constitution, employment contracts, the environment, evidence, and even to address how courts resolve disputes among religious organizations. The access of everyday Hoosiers to their Supreme Court for so many types of cases would have been impossible twenty-five years ago.
The judiciary is also grateful to the legislature for the many various important efforts and functions in which we have partnered together: to name a few: the Family Court project; the Mortgage Foreclosure program (which also involved the Lieutenant Governor’s office); the Court Appointed Special Advocate program; the Public Defender Commission; and, the Civil Legal Aid Fund program.
Indiana citizens are fortunate to have our deep tradition of teamwork. It is remarkable our two branches—each independent and co-equal—have such a strong heritage of working together.
On the subject of cooperation, I happily served on your Criminal Code Evaluation Commission. I greatly admire its focus on evidence-based practices that can make our criminal justice system more effective in protecting public safety, reducing repeat criminal activity, enabling offender reformation, while substantially reducing incarceration costs. I support the resulting legislation, including moving the cost of salaries for chief and assistant chief probation officers from the counties to the state.
Working together on mutual projects demonstrates our two branches respect for each other’s essential function. You determine public policy and make the laws, and we follow and apply them—whether we agree or not. If you disagree with how we interpret a statute, you amend it. That’s the Indiana way. We’ve seen some good recent examples.
In one case, we rejected a defendant’s claim it was bad public policy to convict a passenger in a motor vehicle for “public” intoxication. We held that changes in criminal law must come from the legislature, not us. And in another case, after our opinion was issued noting that the statutory defenses to crimes are “in the hands of the legislature,” you responded by revising the statute that deals with a citizen’s right to use force against intruders. These real examples vividly demonstrate to Indiana students and citizens the principle of separation of powers and show it in action.
Let me now report on the work of Indiana’s courts. During the last decade, almost two million new criminal and civil cases were filed per year in our trial courts. The Court of Appeals and the Tax Court decide appeals in about 2,400 cases from the trial courts each year. The Supreme Court is asked to review about forty percent of these. Between these and other cases presented to us, the Supreme Court received and considered about 1,100 cases this past year, and issued 90 written decisions.
Deciding cases may be the principal task of judges, but we are also deeply engaged in many related activities. One example relates to child abuse and neglect cases. Under our program for Court Appointed Special Advocates, over 3,000 people serve as trained volunteers on behalf of the children involved. Last year these volunteers served over 18,000 children in 73 of Indiana’s 92 counties.
Since 1981, our Indiana Judicial Center has been performing its oversight and management of probation, including setting probation officer standards and providing training and certification. In addition, we are working to develop a schedule of progressive probation incentives and violation sanctions, which we believe will increase public safety while reducing prison populations.
Trial judges are also implementing special “problem solving courts” and other innovative programs to improve access to our courts, to enhance the quality of justice achieved, and to help people solve difficult problems and to regain positive control over their own lives. We now have 54 certified problem-solving courts, with 12 new ones expected in 2013 that include veterans’ courts, drug courts, re-entry courts, a mental health court, and one for family dependency and cases involving Children in Need of Services.
Indiana’s problem-solving courts became the center of national attention in November, when our own John Surbeck of the Allen Superior Court in Fort Wayne was selected from over 40,000 trial judges in America to receive the William Rehnquist Award for judicial excellence. The award was presented to him by Chief Justice John Roberts at the United States Supreme Court. This honor also reflects on the marvelous dedicated work of all Indiana trial judges.
One of the growing challenges before us is the need for full access to the courts for people with limited English proficiency. Much has been accomplished by our Commission on Race and Gender Fairness and its program for training and certifying almost 100 court interpreters statewide. In addition, we provide “Language Line,” a telephonic interpreter service, to all Indiana courts. But more is needed and Justice Rucker will lead these efforts.
We also revised the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines to achieve a “child centered” approach, to help deal with disrupted families. These Guidelines are largely the result of enormous efforts by experienced family law judges and practicing lawyers.
We are also very proud of the growing impact of our Conference for Legal Education Opportunity (CLEO). This program has made it possible for over 450 disadvantaged students to become Indiana CLEO fellows as they work to complete law school and become practicing attorneys. The legal profession is becoming more diverse as a result.
Lawyers are vital components of our judicial system, and our bar is an exceptional body of honorable and dedicated attorneys. In particular, I want to commend the exemplary efforts seen recently to further enhance attorney professionalism and civility. The Indiana Trial Lawyers Association and the Defense Trial Counsel of Indiana—organizations for lawyers representing traditional courtroom rivals—plaintiffs and defendants—came together this past year for a joint conference on civility. At the annual Indiana State Bar Association meeting, these groups present a civility award to a lawyer from the opposing group. This shows Indiana lawyers don’t fit the common negative stereotype.
Beyond deciding appeals and the admission and discipline of lawyers, another of the Supreme Court’s constitutional responsibilities is the “supervision of the exercise of jurisdiction by the other courts of this State.” To fulfill this obligation, the Supreme Court has been working hard to secure the best possible technology so all Indiana courts can do their work more accurately, more efficiently, more promptly, and more economically. After extensive research and an open public procurement process, we selected a major national technology company to equip Indiana’s judicial system at the most reasonable cost. Then we worked to tailor this product—the Odyssey case management system—to serve our unique needs.
The Odyssey system is being used to process over 40% of the workload in Indiana’s trial courts. In fact, Odyssey installation was successfully completed recently in the Orange County courts, to be followed by the St. Joseph County Criminal Courts, then the Hancock County courts, and then the Marion County Civil Courts. At that point, over 46% of Indiana’s caseload will be in Odyssey. When those installations are completed, over 20 other counties are anxiously waiting to begin using Odyssey. This demand is quite understandable. We provide Odyssey to counties that want it, and we maintain it—all at no charge to the counties. Taxpayers in Odyssey counties no longer have to pay license and maintenance fees to private vendors for separate case management systems.
In addition to Odyssey, our technology team and our private sector partners from an array of Indiana firms have also devised about twenty innovations permitting Indiana’s courts to communicate electronically not only with each other but also with various executive branch and other government agencies that need and use court data.
This all produces tremendous advancements in serving Hoosiers. In Odyssey counties, when a judge faces an accused person, the judge can use a computer and immediately learn if the person is bonded out from another county, or is on probation, or has another case pending (so long as it’s from another Odyssey county). This information, in real time, is invaluable to trial judges, to public safety, and to justice itself.
Our technology projects allow police officers to write traffic tickets in minimal time to reduce their exposure to highway dangers, for victims of domestic violence to obtain prompt protective orders immediately enforceable in every Indiana county, and for all judicial mental health decisions to be immediately transmitted to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System for gun purchase background checks.
The bonus is that the Odyssey case management system and all the associated inter-agency interactive systems are funded almost entirely by user fees—court filing fees—and not from property tax, sales, or income tax, without a burden on the State general fund. Justice Massa now leads this effort for the Court.
The Court intends to do everything we can to bring Odyssey as soon as possible to every county that wants it; but this requires more resources. The Court really needs help from the General Assembly this session to upgrade the necessary filing fee revenue stream. This is one of our most urgent priorities.
Not only will we be focusing on trial court technology, but we also seek to enable our appellate courts to begin using e-filing and paperless processing and storage of appellate documents, like most other states.
We are also particularly excited about the success and promise of the new Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, a reform effort that strengthens the juvenile justice system by focusing on a variety of ways to reduce reliance on detention. It emphasizes putting the right kids in detention for the right amount of time. This is a proven model that really works to improve community safety, to get more kids back on the right track, to reduce school drop-out rates, to reduce juvenile detention, and to lower incarceration rates. Justice David is spearheading the Court’s efforts to move forward with this program, and Justice Rush is exploring the possible formation of a multi-branch Commission on Children.
And finally, I want to tell you about our vision and efforts to meet the growing need for basic legal services for people who can’t afford it—without burdening taxpayers. We want to encourage and empower Indiana lawyers to more fully realize the vision of their oaths and the Code of Professional Responsibility to serve “the cause of the defenseless, the oppressed, or those who cannot afford adequate legal assistance.” I believe that Indiana lawyers can and will meet this need as innovative ways are found to incentivize and effectively utilize their skills and efforts, and to match lawyers’ individual areas of expertise with the unmet legal needs of Hoosiers. I am encouraged by the interest already being expressed by many lawyers and by the organized bar.
These are just a few of our accomplishments and aspirations, and there are many other exciting developments on the horizon. Today’s judiciary involves much more than simply ruling on cases. Deeply connected to our communities and invested in shared objectives of fairness, impartiality, justice, compassion, public safety, and human renewal, all with fiscal restraint, the dedicated men and women of the judicial branch join you, the members of the Indiana General Assembly, as we all work to better serve our fellow citizens.
Looking forward to what the Judicial Branch and the General Assembly can accomplish together in the coming year, I close this, my first, State of the Judiciary message.