INDIANAPOLIS – Six Indiana appellate judges come before Hoosier voters this year, including former Allen County jurist Paul Mathias.
He has more than 3,000 cases under his belt since leaving Fort Wayne to take the Court of Appeals post in 2000. He was appointed by Gov. Frank O’Bannon and was initially retained in 2002.
Now he’s before the voters again.
Mathias, 58, has become a bit of a hermit, sticking mostly to the confines of his Statehouse office to review cases and write decisions.
His most significant while on the bench so far has likely been tossing out the state’s voter identification law in 2009.
At the time, he concurred with his Court of Appeals colleagues and found the statute unconstitutional because it did not treat all Hoosier voters equally. The decision said the law favors Hoosiers using mail-in absentee ballots who do not have to show identification to vote, while those voting in person at the polls do.
The Indiana Supreme Court later disagreed and upheld the law – something Mathias said he doesn’t take personally.
As long as a reviewing court doesn’t take a gratuitous swipe at me then they are doing their job and I’m doing my job, Mathias said.
Over the years he said he never ceases to be amazed and saddened by the terrible and tragic variations of criminal behavior.
Mathias said he takes special interest in cases involving mental illness. And he enjoys dealing with issues that have never come before the courts before.
A recent example involved a car accident in which one driver waved a second driver through a traffic jam. The second driver then struck a motorcyclist. The motorcyclist was seriously injured and sued the first driver who initially waved the other person through.
Mathias dissented, feeling that the driver who waved the other one forward could not be held liable for the other driver’s actions pulling into traffic.
I looked at what I thought Hoosiers would expect and I thought Hoosier values were based on personal responsibility, he said.
Mathias called being on the Court of Appeals his calling and said he never even considered seeking one of three recent Indiana Supreme Court openings.
Although court rules keep him from campaigning for retention, he is hoping he isn’t the first appellate judge ever to lose retention.
I realize I was very fortunate to be asked by the governor and the people of the state of Indiana to do what I do, Mathias said. I just consider it my role in life.
He does get back to Fort Wayne about once a month to visit friends and colleagues.
When I hit exit (105), it’s home, Mathias said, noting it’s where he grew up, cut his teeth in the law and served on the Allen Superior Court bench for 11 years.
When he’s not listening to oral arguments, researching case law or drafting decisions, Mathias has been heavily involved in the court’s technology projects. And he is heavily involved in the We the People program – a civics program for students of all ages about the U.S. Constitution and its amendments.
Mathias helps coach two high school We the People teams in the Indianapolis area.
He also wants nothing to do with the current debate over whether Gov. Mitch Daniels should appoint a woman to the Indiana Supreme Court. Indiana is one of only two states without a female on the highest court.
The constitution says that’s the governor’s choice, Mathias said.