Chief Justice highlights courts’ accomplishments in State of Judiciary

By: - January 12, 2023 6:30 am

Chief Justice Loretta Rush highlighted court accomplishments with lawmakers during the annual State of the Judiciary. (Monroe Bush for Indiana Capital Chronicle)

The state’s courts play a crucial role in attracting and retaining businesses but need continued support to further expand, argued Chief Justice Loretta Rush in her annual State of the Judiciary address on Wednesday. 

The “proud daughter of a railroad man,” Rush likened today’s judicial system to the railroads of yore that brought people together and changed lives.

“Like those trains, Indiana’s courts are working as engines of economic development,” Rush said. “Being in court is a particularly vulnerable time — personally, emotionally and economically. The sooner a person can get before a judge and resolve differences… the sooner they can get back to their family and back to work.”

Problem-solving courts

Rush touted the use of commercial courts, which have the ability and resources to handle complex business litigation. She said businesses look at a state’s legal environment when deciding where to locate and these ten specialized courts allow quick judgements in a “predictable, consistent and fair environment.”

“Business owners see these positive outcomes, enabling them to make informed decisions on the costs and risks of potential legal issues,” Rush said. 

Examples of types of problem-solving courts:

  • Adult Drug
  • Family Recovery
  • Mental Health
  • Reentry
  • Veterans
  • Domestic Violence
  • And more

Contracts around the state now specify those courts as the arbiters of business disputes, Rush said. 

Problem-solving courts, another type of specialized courts, include those dedicated to veterans’ issues, mental health and treating addiction or substance use disorders.

“These courts exemplify all that is good in our judicial system – justice tempered with mercy and based on principles of reformation,” Rush said. 

The 143 courts cover roughly two-thirds of the state and many operate at capacity, Rush said, meaning the model has room to expand. 

One key area for future improvement would be the state’s handling of mental health problems in communities, which has taxed the criminal justice system “beyond its abilities,” Rush said. 

“We know that our communities have come to rely on county jails to serve as de facto mental health treatment centers… this was never planned and is not sustainable,” Rush said. “When we ask sheriffs to take on this never-intended duty, we prevent them from carrying out their core mission to provide public safety.”

GOP leaders previously seemed committed to providing additional funding for mental health services, especially following the release of a report estimating untreated mental health disorders cost the state more than $4.2 billion annually

Future investments in technology

A new jail management system, called INJail, will collect and analyze data from county jails to create accurate criminal records between jails, law enforcement, community corrections and judicial systems. 

This system will ensure judges know whether defendants are already incarcerated and notify probation officers if someone under supervision is arrested, making courts more efficient.

The state’s paperless court system, MyCase, handles roughly 8 million documents annually while another system sends text alerts reminding parties about upcoming court hearings. 

“By creating a fully connected and accessible court system, we are providing information to you and other policymakers in tangible, life-saving ways,” Rush said.

Last month, Rush asked the State Budget Committee for about $12 million in new money — which amounts to 7% of the total budget. The ask breaks down as $2 million for court technology improvements; $8.5 million to fund veterans courts, mental health and problem-solving courts, family recovery courts, and pretrial programs; $500,000 to fund the commercial courts and a $1.5 million increase in the Civil Legal Aid Fund.

In a letter detailing the request, Rush noted the technology advances that allowed the state’s courts to pivot during COVID-19 to hold hearings online and allowed the judicial system to safely operate over the last few years.

“We don’t ask for more if we don’t need it. But now we do,” the letter said. “And we know your continued investment in us today, just like your previous support to our partnerships, will pay dividends for everyone across Indiana in improved public safety and economic prosperity.”

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Whitney Downard
Whitney Downard

A native of upstate New York, Whitney previously covered statehouse politics for CNHI’s nine Indiana papers, focusing on long-term healthcare facilities and local government. Prior to her foray into Indiana politics, she worked as a general assignment reporter for The Meridian Star in Meridian, Mississippi. Whitney is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University (#GoBonnies!), a community theater enthusiast and cat mom.

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