DOUG ROSS: Justice David could be chief contender

2013-07-05T00:00:00Z DOUG ROSS: Justice David could be chief contenderBy Doug Ross doug.ross@nwi.com, (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357 nwitimes.com

When Indiana turns 200 in 2016, Chief Justice Brent Dickson will be past his 75th birthday. Current state law requires justices to retire at age 75. So who will be the bicentennial chief justice?

Sen. Jim Buck, R-Kokomo, introduced a bill this year to erase the age limit, reasoning that if U.S. Supreme Court justices can continue serving, why should Indiana put them out to pasture at 75?

That bill, SB 124, died in committee in the House, but it wouldn't apply to Dickson anyway. The Indiana Constitution says the age limit in place when the chief justice takes office is the one that applies to that individual.

So when Dickson, a Hobart native, turns 75, or if he decides to step down earlier, who would replace him?

Indiana Supreme Court Justice Robert D. Rucker, a Gary native, is approaching retirement age. He'll be 69 in 2016. He would have a relatively short tenure as chief justice.

That leaves three other justices to consider, along with other well-respected jurists.

Justice Mark Massa hasn't been on the court long, having been appointed in March 2012. Justice Lorette Rush was appointed even later, in September 2012.

That leaves Justice Steven David. He has had some exceptionally well-reasoned decisions lately that could help put him in the lead position for this future vacancy.

On June 25, the Indiana Supreme Court invalidated a 1981 law and reversed nearly 150 years of legal precedent by putting on prosecutors the burden of proving a defendant accused of murder or treason is not entitled to bail.

"By placing the burden on the defendant accused of murder or treason in a bail proceeding, we are in effect requiring him, while hampered by incarceration, to disprove the state's case pre-trial in order to earn the right to be unhampered by incarceration as he prepares to disprove the state's case at trial," David wrote. "There is no valid justification for such a backward process."

In other words, David was saying just because something has always been done that way doesn't make it right. He delved into the law's meaning and considered the practical implications of how the law is applied.

It's a logical conclusion that any Vulcan would be proud of, even if it did mean setting aside a century and a half of legal precedent.

Dickson's concurrence shows he seems to be in awe of David's decision, and Dickson is generally considered the expert on the Indiana Constitution.

David was criticized, and deservedly so, for his Barnes decision that gave Indiana police the ability to enter homes without a search warrant. Since that first-year debacle, however, he has sharpened his reasoning.

It's early to predict David a winner in the race for a vacancy that hasn't occurred yet, but he's worth keeping an eye on.

Editorial Page Editor Doug Ross can be reached at (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357 or Doug.Ross@nwi.com. Follow him at www.facebook.com/doug.ross1 and on Twitter @nwi_DougRoss. The opinions are the writer's.

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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