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Gull not among 3 high court finalists

Gull

– Allen Superior Court Judge Fran Gull didn’t make the final cut Wednesday for the vacancy on the Indiana Supreme Court.

The seven-member Judicial Nominating Commission deliberated for almost four hours before approving three finalists – Hamilton Superior Court Judge Steven Nation, Indianapolis civil attorney Geoffrey Slaughter and Tippecanoe Juvenile Court Judge Loretta Rush.

Gov. Mitch Daniels now has 60 days to choose the next justice from that list.

It will be his third appointment to the five-member court.

One commission member, Terre Haute attorney James McDonald, voted against the choice of finalists but wouldn’t comment further on why.

Going into the process, much attention has been made about the need for a female justice because Indiana is one of only a few states not to have a woman on the state’s highest court.

In the end, two of the six male applicants made it to the final list, compared with one of the 16 female applicants.

The vacancy is a result of Justice Frank Sullivan Jr.’s stepping down from the bench to teach at Indiana University’s law school in Indianapolis.

The commission, chaired by Supreme Court Chief Justice Brent Dickson, is tasked with narrowing the field of applicants.

In Wednesday’s interview, Gull, 53, focused on her criminal experience and administrative skills. As a prosecutor for several years and a judge since 1997, she has participated in or overseen more than 500 jury trials.

By comparison, one other semifinalist had never been in a jury trial.

The commission continued to question Gull about her lack of civil law experience.

Gull didn’t view her career’s focus on criminal law as a negative attribute. Instead, she said, the criminal law experience she would bring to the bench would add to its diversity; she pointed out that other sitting justices are experts in civil or juvenile law.

She also highlighted her administrative experience running a court system with a large staff and multimillion-dollar budget. She also has served on a number of judicial committees over the years.

Gull said the elephant in the room is the debate about gender diversity on the court, but she said it’s also important to have diversity in backgrounds as well.

She told the group that if selected, she would get an apartment or condominium in Indianapolis and then go home on the weekends to be with family.

Gull stumbled a bit on a question regarding common law, noting that criminal law is almost exclusively bound by statute. Common law questions are much more relevant in civil cases.

The commission appeared to like her experience with reformative justice, an alternative to simply sending people to prison. She talked of Allen County’s drug court as an example.

Gull acknowledged that when she was a prosecutor, she often felt that offenders should be locked up and the key thrown away. But years on the bench have changed that view.

“Now I see the remarkable transformations we can make,” she said, adding that she wished there was state funding for other counties to have other similar problem-solving courts.

nkelly@jg.net

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