Superior III Judge Candidates Reflect On Accomplishments, Rights And Ideas

Keeping a social distance of 6 feet apart, Kosciusko County Superior Court III judge candidates and Republicans (L to R) Rob Bishop, Lindsey Grossnickle, Karin McGrath and Chad Miner talk amongst themselves, and with attorney Dana Leon Huffer (standing), before the start of Friday’s candidate forum in Warsaw City Hall. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.

The four candidates vying for the bench of Superior Court III participated in a forum Friday night put on by the Indiana Bar Association and Kosciusko Chamber of Commerce.

The Republicans looking to be elected as judge are Rob Bishop, Lindsey Grossnickle, Karin McGrath and Chad Miner.

Each were asked two questions from David Slone, managing editor of the Times-Union; Dan Spalding, with InkFreeNews; Rob Parker, president and CEO of the Kosciusko Chamber of Commerce; and Jack Birch, a member of the Kosciusko County Bar Association. Wabash Superior Court Judge Ben Vanderpool was moderator.

Judge Joe Sutton is leaving the bench after more than 20 years presiding in the court that handles criminal cases along with civil and small claims.

The first question the candidates were asked was about their greatest professional and personal accomplishments.

Bishop and Miner both said marrying their spouses was their greatest personal accomplishments, and Grossnickle and McGrath both said their children was theirs.

Professionally speaking, for Bishop it was his work in the Kosciusko County Prosecutor’s Office child support division being deemed a green office by turning their paper forms to electronic.

For Grossnickle, she cited arguing in front of the Indiana Supreme Court and the Indiana Court of Appeals but said at the end of the day it’s about the small things and hearing clients say she helped them.

“I would say earning the respect of colleagues and law enforcement and justice building staff and members of the community that I respect greatly and earning the reputation of being someone who is passionate about the law,” McGrath said.

Miner said helping his clients is what he’s most proud of.

Nearly all the candidates agreed, when asked, if they’ve ever woken up in the middle of the night rethinking how they’ve handled a case or wishing they’d done something differently.

“For years, I would sleep with a pen and paper next to my bed,” Grossnickle said. “I often wake up in the night thinking about what am I gonna do, what am I gonna say. I can’t tell you it’s not a stressful job being an attorney. You’re always wondering how could I have done it better, so yes, I’ve spent many sleepless nights.”

“Generally, I sleep like the dead,”?McGrath said, adding that during trials, she would rehash strategies to make a jury be able to understand.

“We call it the practice of law because we are attempting to improve ourselves, and there certainly is a lot of stress and anxiety that goes along with the job,” Miner said. “I think that anybody that’s practiced, and really not just the law but any of profession or occupation, if you really care about doing a good job, you’re continually asking yourself that questions, is there something I could do a little bit better the next time.”

Bishop told a story about a case he was prosecuting for a felony nonsupport of a dependent where the respondent in the case had a lawyer who behaved so badly, the judge wouldn’t allow the man’s attorney to present any more evidence.

“I felt I had a duty to make sure this man’s rights were protected, even as a prosecutor,” Bishop said. “I learned a lot about who I want to be as a judge by understanding what we think we should do.”

When asked if they would report unethical behavior from attorneys or fellow judges, all of the candidates concurred they are required to do so under Indiana law and that they would.

Parker asked the candidates how their experience has prepared them to preside over Superior Court III cases.

Bishop cited his handling of the 3,000 child support cases he currently deals with, along with the moving things more toward technology.

“We started moving to paperless, and I?think it’s time for the courts to start doing that. Why do we want you in the Justice Building and how can we achieve those goals? Some of the small claims hearings last less than five minutes and we have people taking a half day off of work to participate in those,” Bishop said. “We can do it by web conferences.”

Grossnickle said her experience in law for more than 20 years includes working in the prosecutor’s office in Whitley County, along with criminal and family law.

“I’ve been in every court in Kosciusko County except Superior IV here, and I’ve been in every court in Noble County and Huntington and in Wabash, and that years of experience and handling, I couldn’t even guess how many cases … the culmination has brought all of that, I believe, that I’d be able to walk into any of the five courts in Kosciusko County and have the experience to handle it.”

McGrath said she’s handled small claims, collections, protective orders and foreclosure hearings and that those types of cases deserve a judge’s full attention. She said she’s also handled countless felony criminal cases in Kosciusko County.

Miner said he too has handled a variety of civil and criminal matters.

The topic of if people have adequate access to legal help and the legal system was asked, to which Grossnickle said no, she does not think people are all treated the same way.

“Not all people have the same abilities, people have different amounts of money,” she said. “There’s a way to e-file now and there’s some user-friendly documents to get online, but if I don’t have enough money to get wifi and access those documents, I have to come to court.”

She suggested having someone in the courthouse be able to help litigants who come in and have a hard time understanding.

McGrath called it a complex issue and said that attorneys, judges and courthouse staff are not allowed to dispense legal advice, but floated the idea of maybe training some staff to help with procedural questions for those who may seem intimidated by court.

Miner said he thinks that’s something unique to Superior Court III. That people with small claims and civil cases often come in to court unrepresented, either by financial burden or by choice, but that those folks being able to be heard and have their issues resolved is a core of what the court system is all about.

“So there’s a balance of needing to ensure that all of the parties treat the court with the appropriate respect and other litigants as well,” Miner said.

Bishop talked about Indiana Supreme Court Justice Loretta Rush recently visiting a Marion County small claims hearing.

“And she said that they had the judge as an attorney and the plaintiff had an attorney and the defendant was there pro se, without an attorney, and was struggling to address the matters before the court,” Bishop said. “Clearly, it’s something the Supreme Court has on its mind.”

When asked about what changes they would bring to the court if elected, all of them first grave praise to Sutton for his decades-long work and said he has a reputation for treating attorneys and litigants with respect.

All four of them also agreed that looking at the ways technology could help with the efficiency of non-criminal matters is a good idea.

Bishop came out of the gate and stated he has a “grand plan that I want to put in plan for Superior III. I want to put an OWI problem solving court in. Forty-three percent of the people we convict for drinking and driving we subsequently convict again for drinking and driving. Even when we put them on probation or in jail, that is not successful. We already have a drug court,” he said. “A problem solving court, we’re not just gonna look at probation or jail because that already failed 43% of the time. We’re gonna look at what caused that person to get behind the wheel when they’re drunk, but we’re reducing all these people who come back into the courtrooms laters.”

Bishop said it not only helps the offenders but also saves money.

Grossnickle supported that idea and cited her work in the Whitley County Veterans Treatment Court, of which she is a coordinator.

Their final words were telling voters why they deserve the vote.

“I have a couple of strong points,” Miner said. “One, I’m a lifelong resident of the county, so I’m deeply and intimately familiar with the concerns and traditions of our county. I also have substantial experience filling in as judge pro tem and I think it gives me a real insight and ability to hit the ground running.”

“I’ve practiced law for over 20 years all across northeast Indiana,” Bishop said, adding that he’s won several awards for his work in the county child support office and will continue to strive to do so if he’s hired.

“I have a ton of experience, I’ve been practicing for 20 years,” Grossnickle said. “I have civil, I have criminal, I have problem-solving experience and I’ve been a grant coordinator in this county (for juvenile courts). I am raising a Wawasee Warrior, and I am part of this community.”

“What drives me takes me to a Bible verse,” McGrath said, and quoted Micah 6:8: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

“That motivates me as a person but also as a judge,” McGrath said.