Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Chief Justice Randall Shepard Retiring

Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard surprised Indiana's legal establishment with an announcement that he plans to retire at the end of March, 2012 from the post he has held since his appointment in 1987 by former Indiana Gov. Robert Orr. Shepard will be 65. He was just 38 years old when he was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1985. Gov. Mitch Daniels will get his second appointee to the court in as many years. Last year, he appointed Boone County Circuit Court Judge Steven David. Daniels will not only get to choose Shepard's replacement as Chief Justice but his three appointees to the 7-member Judicial Nominating Commission will also get a say in deciding Shepard's replacement as chief justice from among the five appointed justices. The Judicial Nominating Commission will recommend three choices from which Gov. Daniels will choose to fill the vacant seat, and the Commission will choose the new chief justice. [Note: Earlier, this post incorrectly stated that Gov. Daniels would choose the next chief justice. The state constitution provides that the Judicial Nominating Commission makes that choice from the five sitting justices].

Shepard's appointment as the Chief Justice in 1987 by Gov. Orr sparked the most controversial chapter in the history of Indiana's high court. Chief Justice Richard Givan, Shepard's predecessor, had first announced his intention to step down from the position in 1984 but later withdrew his resignation when he learned that Gov. Orr was likely to appoint someone of not like mind to the post. Givan eventually stepped down three years later and Orr elevated the least senior member of the court to the top spot, angering Givan and another long-time justice, Alfred Pivarnik, who thought he should get the appointment. The spectacle that followed was unprecedented.

Pivarnik and others opposed to Shepard's appointment had retained the services of a private investigator,  International Investigators, Inc., to look into Shepard's background. Pivarnik went public with accusations accusing Shepard of being a pot-smoking, drunken homosexual. Gov. Orr reacted angrily to the charges, calling them "Pure vengeance." An investigation of the allegations conducted by Orr's staff disputed the charges, although Shepard publicly acknowledged that he had at times, while he was still single, consumed too much alcohol and made inappropriate comments at social gatherings. Notwithstanding the scandalous allegations, Shepard's appointment was secured and a later attempt to defeat him at a statewide retention election failed badly, with 62% voting to retain Shepard, a larger percentage than Pivarnik had received in an earlier election. The sad chapter forever changed the close working relationship to which members of the high court had become accustomed.

Speculation on Shepard's replacement will likely turn to the two finalists along with Justice David last year. Appellate lawyer Karl Mulvaney and Marion Superior Court Judge Robin Moberly vied with David in last year's contest to replace retiring Justice Ted Boehm. Daniels would likely favor David for the Chief Justice spot since he is the only Republican currently on the court after Shepard's retirement, but the Commission could choose one of the other justices as well.

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