MARTINSVILLE – There are days when I think how far we have come in making justice look like our community and then are the days when I wonder what I was I thinking. I am not sure we will ever see political selection, merit, and diversity come together in a way that reflects all members of our communities.
 
The appointment of Judge Elizabeth F. Tavitas to the Court of Appeals offers a point of hope and optimism for increased inclusion of women on the Indiana bench as one facet of leadership in the legal community.  Her appointment bodes well even though I do not know Judge Tavitas well. However, other judges whom I do know well and whose opinions I respect, know her and consider her to be an excellent judge.
 
On Oct. 1, I had the pleasure and honor of attending her formal swearing-in and robing ceremony. So, it was a good day to celebrate and recognize Judge Tavitas’ accomplishments. 
 
I found a specific pleasure in attending Judge Tavitas’s ceremony because 30 years ago this month, Gov. Robert Orr announced that he was appointing me to the Indiana Court of Appeals. Gov. Orr was a gentleman and a man with vision for Indiana. My admiration for him is not just because he appointed me to the bench, first as the first woman circuit court judge in Indiana and second as the second woman to serve on the Indiana Court of Appeals. Gov. Orr saw Indiana as a player in the world with international trade and business interests.  
 
Nurturing an ambition for Indiana to be engaged in international businesses, Gov. Orr realized that a justice system that was inclusive and accepted other cultures would provide an attractive climate to business from other countries. I thought I had an obligation to do my best to modernize the courts to better serve the people. I fully expected to see many men and women coming on the bench in Indiana that represented new faces and cultures.
 
But it has not happened. I am not sure why, but the history of women judges in Indiana may provide some hints. The Honorable Betty Barteau, Judge, Indiana Court of Appeals wrote a 1997 law journal article that now, more than 20 years later, offers the best insight available about the role of women on the Indiana bench. Judge Barteau noted, “Ninety years after Indiana admitted its first woman lawyer, Indiana had its first woman judge … In 1964, V. Sue Shields was elected to serve as a superior court judge in Hamilton County, Indiana.”
 
Slower than pond water, women came on the bench. It was not until 1975, some 11 years later, that the next woman took the bench in a court of record. Judge Betty S. Barteau was elected in Marion County and began to serve in January of 1975.
 
The next woman judicial appointment occurred when Gov. Bowen appointed me to a term as Judge of the Lawrence County Court, beginning January 1, 1976. Then in 1978, Judge Shields of the Hamilton Superior Court was appointed to the Indiana Court of Appeals, becoming the first woman in Indiana history to serve on an appellate court.

In 1982, Gov. Orr appointed the first woman (me) in Indiana to serve as a Circuit Court judge. In 1988, I became the second woman to serve on the Indiana Court of Appeals. Thirty years ago, I joined the court and there were two women judges. Today, only six of the 15 judges are women.  Why are there not at least seven women judges if not more? Why is there only one female judge of the five judges on the Indiana Supreme Court? 
 
I think the “merit system” of appointment deters the appointment of women. The politics of merit selection are not nearly as visible as the politics of elections. That invisibility may make it more difficult for women and other non-traditional candidates to navigate. I am being kind here because, although I have no political ambitions for myself, I do not want to harm anyone by association with me. Many years ago, I told Judge Barteau it would take retirement before we could openly discuss the challenges to women in the law and on the bench. I was wrong. There are some discussions it is best not to have, ever. 
 
Nationally, the future looks increasingly bleak for women and nontraditional appointees and candidates. The hashtag movement is so divisive that the professionals, politicos and parties are going to decimate their own potential stars. Why would anyone with common sense want to take on the popular press and face the ugly anger and unreasoning hatred present all over the internet (and Washington, D.C.)?
 
Our challenge in Indiana, Republican, Democrat, or Libertarian, is to understand how we can invite smart people, people with strong work ethics, those who learn from mistakes, male or female, and those who live nontraditional lives to participate in public life. You know, ordinary people like us. 
 
Chezem writes about legal and agricultural issues.