IndyBar News

December 7, 2011

Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice to Retire from Court

Indiana Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard will leave after a quarter century career as the leader of Indiana’s judiciary. Chief Justice Shepard is Indiana’s 99th Supreme Court Justice and the longest serving state court chief justice in the nation. President of the National Center for State Courts, Mary McQueen said, “To say the justice system is stronger today because of Chief Justice Shepard’s three decades of dedication would be an understatement. He defined ‘justice’ not only for the citizens of Indiana and the United States—Chief Justice Shepard defined ‘justice’ for our generation.”

Justice Shepard was appointed to the Indiana Supreme Court by Governor Robert D. Orr in 1985 and selected as Chief Justice in 1987. During his career, he authored nearly 900 civil and criminal opinions and wrote 68 law review articles. His writings have been cited hundreds of times in law journals and textbooks and by other courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court. Beyond his writings, Shepard has devoted his career to developing practical solutions to improve the way courts do business. Indiana voters retained Chief Justice Shepard three times on statewide ballots. In 2008, he received the highest number of “yes” votes ever cast for a justice.

Early in his career, Shepard led a reform to give the Supreme Court discretion over which cases it hears. The result is a well-balanced court that hears both civil and criminal appeals and has adequate time for research and analysis. Under his leadership, the Supreme Court began webcasting all of its oral arguments. He encouraged development of plain English jury instructions to give jurors easy to understand information, not legalese. The online self-service legal center includes a video on representing yourself in court, thanks to Shepard’s support of the project. When the Great Recession led to more than 40,000 foreclosures in a single year, Chief Justice Shepard pledged judicial branch support to work through the crisis. With support from all branches of government, the Mortgage Foreclosure Trial Court Assistance Program has saved many homeowners from eviction.

Shepard’s commitment to education and equal opportunity led him to ask the legislature and Governor Frank O’Bannon to create the Indiana Conference for Legal Education Opportunity (CLEO), to ensure diversity in the legal profession by helping minority and educationally and economically disadvantaged students succeed in law school. Since CLEO began in 1997, the number of minority lawyers in Indiana has doubled. His love of history and education led him to create the Courts in the Classroom program in 2001. With free lesson plans and supporting materials, it allows school children an opportunity to learn about the work of the courts.

In 2007, Governor Mitch Daniels appointed Shepard to co-chair, with former Governor Joe Kernan, the Indiana Commission on Local Government Reform. The Commission outlined 27 specific ways to streamline government declaring, “We’ve got to stop governing like this.” The report became known as the “Kernan-Shepard Report.” A number of the proposals have been implemented. Likewise, Shepard asked trial court judges to place the judicial branch under a microscope and assess the work of the courts. The Strategic Planning Committee continues to develop the judiciary’s roadmap for the future.

Shepard has frequently been called upon to advocate, solve and teach outside Indiana. U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, Jr. appointed Shepard to the U.S. Judicial Conference Advisory Committee on Civil Rules. He is the Committee’s only state court Justice. He has served as Adjunct Professor at Yale Law School, the Maurer School of Law in Bloomington and the Robert H. McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis.

He has held multiple positions of state and national leadership in organizations such as Indiana Landmarks and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Shepard served as Chair of the American Bar Association Appellate Judges Conference and the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar. He was President of the Conference of Chief Justices and Chair of the National Center for State Courts. McQueen commended his leadership, “He led efforts to hold two national conferences on court security, he supported a national summit to improve the courts’ handling of child protection cases, and following Hurricane Katrina he endorsed the creation of an online clearinghouse to help devastated courts in the Gulf States. These accomplishments were in addition to his ongoing efforts to fight for issues he was passionate about: protecting judicial independence, improving judicial selection, and revising the judicial model code.”

Among other state and national awards, Shepard has received the Indiana Chamber of Commerce Government Leader of the Year, the American Judicature Society’s Opperman Award and the Indiana Black Expo Lifetime Achievement Award. He has honorary degrees from the University of Southern Indiana, University of South Carolina, Notre Dame and the University of Evansville.

Justice Shepard is married to Amy W. MacDonell and they have one daughter, Mattie Shepard. He was born in Lafayette on December 24, 1946. A seventh-generation Hoosier, he grew up in Evansville. He graduated cum laude from Princeton in 1969 and received his law degree from Yale Law School in 1972. After serving briefly as Special Assistant to the Under Secretary at the U.S. Department of Transportation, he returned home. He served as the chief assistant to Evansville Mayor Russell G. Lloyd before becoming a trial court judge at age 33. He served on the Vanderburgh Superior Court until his appointment to the Supreme Court in 1985. In 1995, he received a Master of Laws from the University of Virginia School of Law.

His connection to his hometown of Evansville remained strong after he moved to Indianapolis. Chief Justice Shepard continued to be a daily reader of the Evansville Courier and Press and he stayed in touch with friends and community leaders. He is the inspiration for the Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corporation’s Randall T. Shepard Academy for Law and Social Justice, and the Evansville Bar recently restored and named the Randall T. Shepard Courtroom in the Old Vanderburgh Courthouse.

Chief Justice Shepard will step down from the bench in March 2012. The Indiana Judicial Nominating Commission will search for a successor to fill the vacancy. The Commission, which is chaired by Chief Justice Shepard, will interview candidates in February 2012 and send the names of three candidates to Governor Mitch Daniels. The Governor will select Indiana's next justice. The seven-member Commission will appoint a new Chief Justice.