Batesville Herald Tribune, Batesville, Indiana

February 21, 2012

Daniels may face issues with court pick

Maureen Hayden
The Herald-Tribune

BATESVILLE — For the second time in less than a year, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels may have the chance to consider appointing a woman to the state's all-male top court.

But to do so, the three women still in the running for the seat must get through another round of interviews with a judicial nominating committee charged with vetting candidates for the Indiana Supreme Court.

Next Thursday (FEB 23), the seven-member commission begins its second round of interviews with the seven semi-finalists selected from a field of 15 people who applied to fill the seat to be vacated in March by retiring Chief Justice Randall Shepard.

Gender isn't on the official list of criteria that state statute requires the nominating commission to consider when assessing those candidates. But it may still be factor: Of the 106 justices who've sat on the Indiana Supreme Court, only one has been a woman.

"There's some catching up to do," said Joel Schumm, a longtime court observer and a professor at Indiana University's Robert H. McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis.

How much pressure either the commission or the governor feels to "catch up" that history remains to be seen. The commission must pick three names to send to the governor, who filled the last court opening with a man: former Boone County judge Steven David, who was appointed last October from a field of three that included one woman.

At the time, Daniels said gender could be used as "tie breaker" if two judicial candidates were equal.

Brian Howey, a political analyst and publisher of Howey Politics Indiana, said he doubts Daniels will see things differently this time. "I don't think he feels a need to make a decision based on gender."

Schumm, who sat through the first round of applicant interviews in what's becoming an increasingly public vetting process, said the seven candidates on the semi-finalist list have impressive legal credentials. "It's quite possible the three names could all be men," Schumm said.

Shepard chairs the commission that will be picking the person to fill the seat he'll empty. He's said in the past that women, including some of his own family members, have pushed him to help change the gender make-up of the court. But he's also said the commission's first duty is to identify the most highly qualified candidates for the job.

So far, that's meant selecting seven candidates with a range of legal experiences, most of it Indianapolis-centric. They include two Marion County Superior Court judges, Robert Altice Jr., and Robyn Moberly; Indiana Court of Appeals Judge Cale Bradford, who is a former federal prosecutor; Indianapolis attorney Mark Massa and Columbus attorney Steven Schultz, both of whom are former legal counsels to Daniels; Indianapolis attorney Jane Seigel, who runs the Indiana Judicial Center; and Floyd Superior Court Judge Maria Granger of New Albany, who at 42, is the youngest of the finalists. 

If Seigel, Moberly, or Granger would be appointed to the top court, it would be historic – the state's second woman justice. The first was Myra Selby, who served less than five years before stepping down from the court 11 years ago.

What may be most historic is how information is available to the public about the candidates:

Each of the candidates' applications for the job are posted on the Indiana Supreme Court website. They contain extensive information about their education and experiences, both in their communities and their profession. Granger's application, for example, is 27 pages long.

Each have already gone through one round of interviews that were open to the media and the general public. The second round of interviews with commission members, scheduled to start Thursday, are also open.  The commission has until March 4 to pick three names to send the governor, who then has 60 days to make his selection.

Indiana governors have have been appointing justices to the top court since 1972, when the state switched from electing judges to the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals to a merit selection process. 

Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com