Retiring Indiana justice praises state selection process

An Indiana Supreme Court justice who is stepping down says he believes the state's process for picking his replacement contributes to public confidence in the court system.

The state's Judicial Nominating Commission is currently accepting applications to fill the vacancy coming with Justice Brent Dickson's retirement.

The 74-year-old announced in early November that he would retire next spring after 30 years on the state's highest court. The commission will interview candidates after the first of the year and recommend three finalists to Gov. Mike Pence, who will select one as his first appointment to the five-member court.

Indiana's process is better than in other states, where justices are elected and those with cases before the court don't have to worry about an adversary's campaign contributions, Dickson told The Times of Munster.

"People can have confidence in the judiciary," Dickson said. "Judges don't have to appeal to lawyers to finance their campaign. In every way you look at it, in terms of public confidence in the judiciary and fair and unbiased decision-making, it's the best system we've come up with so far."

Indiana Supreme Court justices and appeals court judges do appear on the statewide ballot each 10 years on whether they should remain in those positions, which Dickson said he also supported.

"There's an opportunity to get rid of a bad apple if you've got someone you need to get rid of," he said. "They're not in for life necessarily."

No Supreme Court justice has been removed since Indiana's Constitution was amended in 1970 to require them to win periodic retention votes.

The last significant push against a sitting justice came in 2012 when tea party activists urged voters to oust Justice Steven David over a decision he wrote that residents didn't have a right to resist police entry even if officers didn't have a warrant. David received about 69 percent of the vote to remain on the bench.

County and city court judges are voted on in partisan elections in most of Indiana's 92 counties.

Dickson, who served as Indiana chief justice in 2012-14, is stepping down just before he reaches the court's mandatory retirement age of 75 in July.

"The time seemed right. We've got a great team in place," he said. "I want to try some new things while my health is still there, and it just seemed to be the right time. I've served my time, and I'm ready to step out on something new. But I'll still stay involved and so I get the best of both worlds a little bit."

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