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Indiana chief justice stresses wellness amid spike in complaints against judges

Indiana Supreme Court Justice Loretta Rush sits next to Governor Eric Holcomb as they both listen to Representative Greg Steuerwald, who stands in front of them. Rush is a White woman with brunette hair. Holcomb and Steuerwald are White men, with light gray and white hair.
Brandon Smith
IPB News
Chief Justice Loretta Rush said the judicial system must do a better job of helping judges who are increasingly overburdened.

The number of complaints against Indiana judges has been on the rise for years. But last fiscal year saw a significant spike.

There were 609 complaints filed against state court judges from July 2021 through June 2022. That’s up nearly 18 percent from the year before – and up about 46 percent from just five years ago.

While most of those complaints are summarily dismissed, Chief Justice Loretta Rush said it reflects a lot of anger among the public at institutions.

Still, she said the judicial system must do a better job of helping judges who are increasingly overburdened.

“Just saying, hey, if you need a day to get a senior judge to cover your court so you can just have a wellness day, take a wellness day,” Rush said.

Rush said the judiciary has also made a slight change to its continuing education requirements for judges.

“And we’re giving ethics credit for wellness,” Rush said.

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Rush said she's seeing more judges express a desire to step away from the job and points to the nature of cases that many judges see every day.

She recalled her service as a juvenile court judge and one memory that stands out. A young girl, who'd been abused by her father, had to sit in court – in front of her abuser – and recount what he'd done to her.

"She looked at me at the end of the testimony and she goes, 'I'm sorry if this is hard to hear,'" Rush said. "She was having empathy for me to hear the trauma that she went through. So, then I had to take a break – because I had bit my tongue so hard it was bleeding – go back and control myself, because that's what you have to do as a judge."

Rush also noted that about a third of judges over the last four years are new.

Contact reporter Brandon at bsmith@ipbs.org or follow him on Twitter at @brandonjsmith5.

Brandon Smith has covered the Statehouse for Indiana Public Broadcasting for more than a decade, spanning three governors and a dozen legislative sessions. He's also the host of Indiana Week in Review, a weekly political and policy discussion program seen and heard across the state. He previously worked at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri and WSPY in Plano, Illinois. His first job in radio was in another state capitol - Jefferson City, Missouri - as a reporter for three stations around the Show-Me State.