The people behind the precedents: A new book on the Indiana Court of Appeals tells stories of judges who served


A new book about the Indiana Court of Appeals tells stories of judges who served (Photo IL/ Marilyn Odendahl)

When the Indiana Court of Appeals was created in 1891, the legislature intended that the new bench of judicial intermediaries would exist for only six years.

The Indiana Supreme Court was overwhelmed with cases, so a lower appeals court was created to preside over mundane cases, such as collection cases under $1,000 and tort appeals. However, with the judges still overworked two years later, the General Assembly expanded the jurisdiction of the Court of Appeal to include appeals from the lower courts, and then in 1901 the Court of Appeal was made permanent.

A new book documents the history of the Indiana Court of Appeals by telling the story through the men and women who served as judges.

Just released this spring, the book, “The Indiana Court of Appeals,” is a compilation of the profiles of the approximately 120 judges who have served on the appellate bench during its 131-year history.

Court of Appeals Judge Edward Najam Jr., who led the book project, explained that the opinions and decisions rendered by the appellate bench are a reflection of people’s life experiences and legal thinking. who wore the dresses.

“Every day lawyers and judges cite cases from the Court of Appeals, and those cases all have authors, but many of them, especially judges from the distant past, we don’t know much- thing, except we know their names,” Najam said. “(The book) was a way to inform the bar and the public and the judiciary about the trial, it’s the people who wrote the opinions we still write about , which we quote again.”

The book’s release coincides with the 50th anniversary celebration of Indiana’s Constitutional Amendment that came into being on January 1, 1972, and made the Court of Appeals a constitutional court. Since then, appellate judges have been chosen by the governor rather than by partisan elections.

Judge Edward Najam Jr.

Najam brought in the team that had put together a similar biographical compilation, “The Indiana Supreme Court Justices”, to work on the Court of Appeals book.

Elizabeth Osborn, director of education at Indiana University’s Center on Representative Government, resumed her role as project director and helped design and outline the stages of the book’s development. Additionally, the husband-and-wife editorial team of James St. Clair and Linda Gugin returned as editors, working closely with writers and polishing drafts.

Early in the process, Najam and Osborn connected with Indiana Historical Society Press, which published the book.

The tome covers all of Hoosier’s appellate jurists, from James B. Black, Jephta New, Milton Robinson, George Reinhard and Edgar Crumpacker, who all became the first judges from March 1891, to Leanna Weissmann, who served in court on September 14. , 2020.

Unfortunately, the newest member of the court, Judge Derek Molter, is not part of the book as he joined the court on October 1, 2021, after the book was almost finished.

“I can’t wait for this book to be placed in libraries so people can check it out,” Najam said. “…It shows a remarkable diversity of backgrounds and experiences.”

Lawyers and Judge Steven David (right) enjoy a meal as part of the Court of Appeal celebration.

The Court of Appeals celebration brought together members of the Indiana legal community, including, from left, COA Judge Patricia Riley, Administrative Law Judge Dave Remondini, Tax Court Judge of Indiana Martha Wentworth, COA Judge L. Mark Bailey and COA Judge Terry Crone.

The “Evening with the Judges of Appeal” celebration was a one-day CLE conference. Lawyers learned how to litigate claims under the Indiana Constitution. (Photos courtesy Indiana State Bar Association)

All stand up

Gugin and St. Clair asked the authors to focus on the personal. The publishers wanted 750-word vignettes that gave color to the judges’ childhood, judicial journey, family and daily life. They asked for candid stories that highlighted each judge’s different experiences and perspectives without glorifying individuals.

While authors could include information about decisions made by their judges, Gugin and St. Clair set the limit at one or two opinions so that the legal work did not overshadow personalities.

“We were trying to get writers to write about them in a way that people could see that they’re human beings making those decisions,” Gugin said. “They have a variety of experiences that they bring to the court and to their decisions.”

Among the revelations, Judge Allen Sharp, serving on the appeals court from 1969 to 1973, disliked his middle name and never used it, or even his initial. Additionally, Judge Robert Staton (1971-2000) was one of the “devoted practitioners and an avid follower” of calligraphy, while Judge John Ryan (1959-1964) lodged with the son of Chicago mobster Al Capone during his freshman year at Notre Dame. .

To find these details, the lawyers, professors, historians, archivists, professors, judges and justices who wrote the biographies searched through newspapers, law journal articles, books, yearbooks and sometimes interviewed parents or colleagues. St. Clair, a former journalist, was able to sniff out obscure sources whenever an author had trouble finding material.

Additionally, Gugin and St. Clair noted that they can still rely on the current Court of Appeals Administrator, Larry Morris. When they had questions about court rules, appeal history and judges, Morris had the answers.

“There was nothing he didn’t know about the Court of Appeals,” Gugin said. “I called him and the next day or so he had an answer for me. … He was so helpful.

‘Work in progress’

The first Court of Appeals justices were all white men, and those demographics remained unchanged for 87 years until Justice V. Sue Shields became the first female appointee to the Indiana appellate bench. in 1978. Thirteen years later, Justice Robert Rucker became the first African American on the Court of Appeals in 1991.

“I think my nomination means a lot of things to a lot of different people – men, women, black and white,” Rucker said at the time. “And I hope that this nomination can serve as an inspiration to our children, certainly to other African-American lawyers and to the legal community in general.”

Nine women followed Shields to the Court of Appeals bench, seven of whom are still serving. The appointment of Justice Elaine Brown in 2008 created the first all-female appellate district with Justices Margret Robb and Nancy Vaidik.

Since Rucker, Justices Carr Darden and Rudolph Pyle III are the only other African Americans to have served on the Court of Appeals.

“I think the terms sex and race are a work in progress,” Gugin said of the Court of Appeals. “…We have to keep making progress.”

The book was launched May 3 at the Indiana State Bar Association’s “Evening with the Judges of Appeal.” As part of the reception and dinner in downtown Indianapolis, the hardcover book was given to all guests.

Now the Court of Appeal is working on a book tour by scheduling events with local bar associations and taking copies when judges travel for Appeal on Wheels oral arguments. The appeals court hopes the summer will provide an opportunity to reconnect with attorneys and jurists from across the state and share some fun stories.

Najam said he was confident that the book’s outline of the Court of Appeals’ history and biographical profiles would provide a better understanding of the appeals process in Indiana to lawyers and non-lawyers alike.

“I find the book very interesting to read,” Najam said. “…I have served with 32 judges since I have been in the court and by reading this book I have learned many things about some of them that I did not know before.”•


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