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Supreme Session

Supreme Session
Supreme Session
Indiana Supreme Court Justice Robert D. Rucker, Justice Brent E. Dickson, Chief Justice Loretta H. Rush, Justice Mark S. Massa and Justice Steven H. David prepare to hear oral arguments last Wednesday involving an Allen County case in the First State Capitol Building in Corydon. Photos provided by Indiana State Bar Association

Downtown Corydon was a-buzz with activity last Wednesday morning as one of many bicentennial celebrations took place. This one involved the Indiana Supreme Court coming here to hear oral arguments in the historic Supreme Court Courtroom located on the second floor of the First State Capitol Building that was followed by the dedication of a historical marker recognizing Polly Strong’s efforts to become free from slavery.
Due to the historic courtroom’s size, the arguments were simulcast on the third floor of the Harrison County Court House, in Circuit Judge John T. Evans’ courtroom.
‘If everything works well, we’ll be able to watch live,’ Evans said prior to the start of the proceedings.
Among those attending were 10 senior students from Crawford County Junior-Senior High School and their government teacher, Jill Stutzman.
Stutzman said the students, who had opted to attend the proceedings rather than go on a field trip to a Louisville Bats game with some of their classmates, had studied the case in class prior to the event.
Perry Hammock, executive director of the Indiana Bicentennial Commission, said the event was one of about 1,200, including 175 for children, planned throughout the year.
‘And all of those are locally funded, locally put together,’ he said.’ So, it’s great to see that grassroots support across the state of the bicentennial.’
Last Wednesday’s event was work for the Indiana Supreme Court Justices, including Justice Brent Dickson, who was hearing his last argument after serving for 30 years.
‘It’s hugely inspirational,’ he said of the experience in Corydon. ‘It’s like walking into the Statehouse and feeling uplifted, (like) the best of you is required.’
The case, F. John Rogers, et al. v. Angela Martin, et al. dates back to May 8, 2010, when Martin hosted a party for Brian Brothers, who was her fianc’ whom she lived with in Allen County.
Brothers, Jerry Chambers and Paul Michalik were involved in an altercation that night; Chambers was injured and Michalik later died. A civil lawsuit filed against Martin and Brothers claimed that Martin was responsible for furnishing alcohol to Brothers and that she should have helped the injured guests.
The Allen County Superior Court granted summary judgment in Martin’s favor. The case was then appealed in the Indiana Court of Appeals. That court reversed the trial court’s decision and the case was handed over to the Indiana Supreme Court.
Last week, counsel for both parties made their case and answered the justices’ questions. Chief Justice Loretta Rush handed the proceedings over to Dickson after noting that he is the second-longest serving justice in Indiana history. The first was Isaac Blackford, who sat in the very same room in the 1800s.
‘The oral argument was real, it involved real people and, for me, the concerns were: what is this case about, what are the legal issues and how does it affect the lives of these people involved,’ Dickson said.
For about 20 minutes, attorney Andrew Teel argued that Martin was obligated to provide care to the injured party guests and that she was responsible for providing the alcohol. Attorney Jane Malloy then argued on behalf of Martin followed by Teel having time to respond.
Dickson said if the justices don’t make a decision and write an opinion by April 29 ‘ his last day as a justice ‘ he won’t be involved in the decision making. In that case, either his successor will take over or the decision will be made with four justices.
Rush and Dickson both noted that the case was well-argued. For Malloy, who represents Martin, the proceedings were notable for another reason: It was the first time she argued in front of the Supreme Court.
‘So, yes, it was quite an experience,’ Malloy said. ‘I’ve been practicing law for 30 years, and I would have to say this is the highlight of my career.’
Judge Evans said he thought counsel for both sides ‘did an excellent job presenting.’
He also told those in his courtroom about the Courts in the Classroom project and showed a brief video, titled ‘Bound for Freedom,’ about the Strong case.
The Courts in the Classroom project includes only Indiana cases, but, Evans said, the Strong case has national interest.
Evans also offered his courtroom to any teacher who wants to give students the experience of reproducing a case.
Getting the historical marker for Strong was spearheaded by Corydon resident Maxine Brown.
‘We finally got it done,’ Brown said. ‘We pursued this for a long time.’
Eunice Brewer-Trotter, the great-great-great-granddaughter of Mary Bateman Clark, whose case was considered the other bookend to Strong’s, spoke.
Laura Van Fossen, program developer of the Corydon Capitol State Historic Site, sang ‘The Pastoral Elegy’ from which the town of Corydon received its name.
‘It is an absolutely fantastic experience,’ Justice Steven H. David said later before the morning’s events concluded. ‘It’s great to be here in Corydon for this. I’m a Southern Indiana boy myself, so this is just great.’
David grew up in Bartholomew County and graduated from Columbus North High School.
Information for this story also was provided by Elizabeth DePompei, who was chosen at random from five journalists, to serve as the pool reporter, thus being allowed a seat in the First State Capitol Building for the oral arguments.