The COVID-19 pandemic appears to have deterred litigants from seeking review by the state's highest court for a second consecutive year.

Between July 1, 2021, and June 30, 2022, a total of 634 cases were submitted for action by the Indiana Supreme Court, a 12.6% drop compared to the 724 cases filed at the court during the same period in 2020-21, according to the court's recently released annual report.

Records show this year's total also was 30.7% fewer cases than the 913 litigants seeking review by the state's highest court during the mostly pre-COVID 2019-20 reporting period.

Once again, the largest decline was criminal conviction appeals. During the 2022 budget year, there were 286 criminal petitions for review by the Supreme Court, compared to 363 in the 2021 budget year, a drop of 25.3%, and 481 criminal appeals in 2020 — a two-year decline of 40.5%

Indiana Chief Justice Loretta Rush delivers her annual "State of the Judiciary" address on Jan. 13, 2022, to a joint session of the Indiana General Assembly.

Civil appeals to the state's highest court also fell to 233 in 2022 from 266 in 2021 and 306 in 2020, a 23.9% drop over two years.

Attorney discipline cases handled by the five justices actually rose to 69 in 2022 from 67 in 2021. But that still was down 20.7% from the 87 attorney discipline cases the court decided in 2020, records show.

Though even with fewer cases to consider, the Supreme Court in 2021-22 produced more opinions — 81 (56 majority, 25 non-majority) — than it did the year before: 74 (53 majority, 21 non-majority); and even slightly more than it did in 2019-20 before COVID-19 changed everything: 80 (57 majority, 23 non-majority).

"The Indiana Constitution's open courts clause promises every Hoosier a fair, impartial and accessible justice system. And we are delivering on that constitutional promise," said Chief Justice Loretta Rush in her annual "State of the Judiciary" address.

The five Republican-appointed high court justices also agreed, more often than not, on what they saw as the right course for Indiana law.

Of the justices' 56 rulings, 77% were unanimous, just 11.5% were 4 to 1 and another 11.5% were decided 3 to 2, according to the annual report.

Now-retired Justice Steven David was dissenter-in-chief in 2022, writing five full dissents. Justice Christopher Goff, the newest justice at the time, was second with four full dissents and two partial dissents.

At the same time, data show David, Goff and Rush, along with Justice Mark Massa tied as writers of nine majority opinions each.

Justice Geoffrey Slaughter, a Crown Point native, wrote eight of the court's majority opinions. Another 12 unsigned rulings were issued by the court.

According to the report, Indiana courts statewide last year also tallied 35 million page views of online court records, accepted 8.3 million electronically filed documents, processed 81,923 online traffic ticket payments and launched initiatives aimed at preventing evictions, among other accomplishments.

Beyond case records, the annual report dedicates several pages to highlighting David's judicial career. His mid-summer retirement ended David's role as the court's longest-serving member with 12 years on the Supreme Court bench. He also was Boone circuit judge from 1995-2010.

The report notes that the Boone County Bar Association described David in a resolution adopted prior to his retirement as "a possessor of the highest moral character and an overall extraordinary gentleman of impeccable good spirit, generosity and humor."

Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb selected Indiana Court of Appeals Judge Derek Molter, a Newton County native, to succeed David on the Supreme Court.

Molter began working as a justice at the high court Sept. 1. His robing ceremony, where Molter paid tribute to David, as well as the numerous lawyers and judges in his Northwest Indiana family, was held Nov. 1 in the Supreme Court chamber at the Statehouse.
© Copyright 2023, nwitimes.com, Munster, IN