By Lesley Weidenbener
The Statehouse File
INDIANAPOLIS – Brent Dickson, the longest serving member of the Indiana Supreme Court, is now its chief justice, a position in which he will serve no longer than about four years.
Newly appointed Indiana Chief Justice Brent Dickson said Tuesday he has no major changes planned for the court's administration. Dickson has been acting chief justice since Randall Shepard retired in March. Photo by Lesley Weidenbener, The Statehouse File.
Dickson, who faces a mandatory retirement from the five-member court in July 2016 when he turns 75, said he was urged by colleagues to consider serving as chief justice, in part to preserve some continuity in the state’s judicial system.
“We’re facing immense change in the personnel on the court,” Dickson said. “Our employees needed to know that stability was going to reign and the programs and personnel were not in jeopardy.”
Dickson has been serving as acting chief justice since the March retirement of Randall Shepard, who left the job after 25 years. Later this year, Gov. Mitch Daniels will appoint the court’s third new justice in five years.
Another justice – Robert Rucker – is also deciding whether to retire this year.
“Much has been accomplished in the last 25 years and there’s a lot resting on keeping it going,” Dickson said.
Justice Robert Rucker said told the Indiana Judicial Nominating Commission on Tuesday that all the current members of the Indiana Supreme Court would be up to the duties of chief justice. But he said only Justice Brent Dickson could provide the continuity the court needs now. Photo by Lesley Weidenbener, The Statehouse File.
The Indiana Judicial Nominating Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to give Dickson the job, although it was never a contest. “You’re the man,” commission member Fred McCashland of Indianapolis told Dickson when it was his turn to vote.
Earlier, the court’s four other justices addressed the commission and in direct and indirect ways urged them to pick Dickson, whom then-Gov. Robert Orr appointed to the court in 1986.
The commission asked Justice Steven David – whom Daniels appointed last year – what he’s looking for in the next chief justice. David looked right at Dickson and nodded. “My vote is for the chief,” he said.
Rucker told the judicial nominating commission that all the current members of the Indiana Supreme Court would be up to the duties of chief justice. But he said only Dickson could provide the continuity the court needs now.
“With so much uncertainty, with so much transition,” Dickson has provided a steady hand in his role as acting chief justice, Rucker said. “He’s done a magnificent job.”
Rucker compared the state’s judiciary to a company and the state’s Supreme Court to a board of directors. The chief justice, he said, serves as the chairman of that board, a position Dickson has been navigating well.
Members of the Indiana Judicial Nominating Commission listened Tuesday to comments from Justice Brent Dickson. The commission later voted unanimously to appoint Dickson as the next chief justice of the Indiana Supreme Court. Photo by Lesley Weidenbener, The Statehouse File.
“As chairman of the board, he’s been leading us along,” Rucker said. “We couldn’t have a better person.”
A Gary native, Dickson worked 17 years in general practice in Lafayette before his appointment to the Indiana Supreme Court. He said Tuesday he has no plans for significant changes and will work to improve civility in the state’s courts.
Dickson said he did not know how long he would serve in the position but he would have no choice but to step down when he turned 75.
Lesley Weidenbener is managing editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.