Indiana Chief Justice Loretta Rush delivers her 10th State of the Judiciary address on Jan. 10. (Photo courtesy of Indiana Supreme Court)
In her 10th State of the Judiciary address to the Indiana General Assembly on Jan. 10, Indiana Chief Justice Loretta Rush recognized some of the state’s judges and their community efforts in trying to assist people with behavioral and mental health needs, as well as efforts by judicial officers to help the state’s veterans and families.
Her address, “Indiana Courts’ Return on Investment,” focused on behavioral health needs, family recovery courts, veterans courts, the state’s rural justice summit, attorney shortages, court technology, commercial courts and outreach efforts.
Rush also announced in her opening remarks that the high court’s first “Night Court for Legislators” is coming up on Feb. 19, when legislators will get a closer look at the Indiana Supreme Court and how it works.
The chief justice began her 2024 address by noting that in 2023, she described the courts as engines of economic development, fairness and public safety. This year, she said, there is an eagerness to show the returns on the investments the Legislature has made in the courts.
“Your funding has allowed us to expand problem-solving and commercial courts, address rural needs, leverage technology through innovation and build public trust through outreach,” Rush said. “And you know what? We’re just getting started.”
Behavioral health efforts
The chief spotlighted Floyd Superior Judge Carrie Stiller and other Floyd County leaders for their local Justice Reinvestment Advisory Council’s efforts after the statewide 2022 Mental Health Summit.
She described Stiller watching inmates leaving the courthouse after being released from jail and waiting on the street corner for their rides.
Rush said Stiller was worried that an inmate who had nowhere to go would step right back into the cycle of drugs, arrest and jail by calling someone associated with that.
Thus, Stiller convened the local leaders and organized the county’s own mental health summit to develop a plan to address those issues.
“The momentum in Floyd County has become unstoppable,” Rush said. “The county council and commissioners generously agreed to leverage their opioid settlement money to get matching state grants from the Division of Mental Health and Addiction — smart. And they hired a full-time jail transition coordinator to assist released inmates to get to treatment, not stand on the street corner waiting for a ride.”
Next, Rush highlighted Vigo County Judge Sarah Mullican and her work running one of 21 family recovery courts in the state.
Rush described a parent Mullican saw in court who failed a drug screen and had his kids taken away.
But through the family recovery court, “Josh” was able to obtain his GED and driver’s license and was reunited with his children.
“Josh’s transformation was possible thanks to the funding you provided for problem-solving courts — what a return on investment,” Rush said.
In Marion County, Superior Court Judge David Certo runs the Indianapolis Veterans Court, which is just one of Indiana’s 151 problem-solving courts.
Certo’s program has graduated 116 participants so far.
Rush described one of the men who went through the program, Aaron Shaw.
According to Rush, Shaw’s life fell apart after an Army career that included service in Iraq. But he worked hard in the veterans court program for more than three years before graduating and getting his charges dismissed.
Rush said Shaw now serves as a mentor and runs a sobriety support group. He also serves on the board of directors of a national association, and he has reconnected with his son.
The chief justice told lawmakers that data show there have been thousands of graduates and hundreds of thousands of negative drug screens as a result of the state’s problem-solving courts.
“But the real return on investment isn’t a number, and it’s not quantifiable with a metric,” Rush said. “It’s the reclaimed lives, like Aaron’s.”
Rush then moved on to the Legislature’s investment in court technology.
“When our framers crafted the ‘courts shall be open’ provision of the Indiana Constitution over 200 years ago, they never could have imagined the remarkable ways we could leverage technology today,” she said. “And you — as the modern-day framers of our laws — your investment in court technology has allowed us to be pioneers in our own right.”
Rush said Indiana is recognized nationally as a leader in court technology for allowing 24/7 access to the courts with the use of MyCase, a child support calculator, court calendars, and live and archived hearings.
She also said it isn’t a surprise that people would want to get a text message to remind them about their hearing or to pay a traffic ticket online.
Also, through researchers at Indiana University, the courts were able to learn how people felt about attending court online.
“For a person who has to find a ride to court, miss work or get child care, remote access is not just about flexibility — it is the lynchpin to getting their case resolved, getting justice,” Rush said. “Simply logging on to a remote proceeding, at times, is far more practical than jumping the hurdles that can accompany attending court in person.”
The chief closed by thanking Gov. Eric Holcomb for his leadership over the past eight years. She noted that he has made 100 appointments to the state’s benches.
“You hold a remarkable place in history, not only due to the number of your appointments, but also due to the quality of your appointments,” Rush concluded. “… And there is no question that Indiana’s judiciary is both strong today and well-equipped to ensure that future generations see the same, excellent return on investment.”•