Chief justice receives O’Bannon Sunshine Award

O'Bannon Sunshine Award
Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Randall Shepard, center, received the Frank O'Bannon Sunshine Award for his support of open government during the HSPA Legislators Luncheon on Feb. 16. He was nominated by Jon O'Bannon, right, owner of The Corydon Democrat. Judy O'Bannon, left, presented the award named for her late husband.

The Hoosier State Press Association honored Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Randall Shepard with a Frank O’Bannon Sunshine Award for his support of open government.

With many state legislators observing, Judy O’Bannon, the late governor’s wife, presented the clear glass award symbolizing transparency in government to Shepard during a luncheon at the HSPA Annual Meetings and Government Conference at the Indianapolis Marriott Downtown on Feb. 16.

Shepard’s efforts to help citizens understand how the court system works were lauded by Judy O’Bannon, an owner of The Corydon Democrat, which nominated the jurist for the honor.

The O’Bannon Sunshine Award, first awarded in 2005, honors an individual, group or organization demonstrating outstanding effort to protect and enhance open government in Indiana.

“Some people think the press only reports the bad news – the one bad apple in a barrel of good public officials and employees,” said HSPA executive director and general counsel Stephen Key. “The Frank O’Bannon Sunshine Award honors that golden apple – those public servants or citizens who understand that our government should be transparent to the people it serves.”

Founded in 1933, HSPA represents nearly all daily and weekly paid circulation newspapers in the state.

The Corydon Democrat’s nomination, submitted by publisher Jon O’Bannon, included the following:

Chief Justice Randy Shepard has articulated the belief that newspapers and the judiciary have a symbiotic relationship. The judiciary needs the coverage of its operations and decisions to help strengthen its role as one of the three equal branches of government, each serving as a counterweight to the other two branches. The judiciary is dependent upon the opinion of the courts by the people to give it the strength to fulfill its role and the press is a key factor in giving the public information to form its opinion of the court system. Meanwhile, the press is reliant upon the judiciary to protect its newsgathering ability through First Amendment-related decisions. If the court doesn’t support the freedom of press, newspapers’ ability to serve as a government watchdog could be severely curtailed.

With that view, the chief justice has taken steps to make the workings of the judiciary more transparent. Under his watch:

  • Media cameras are allowed in the appellate courts, and arguments are webcast across the Internet.
  • The Supreme Court has approved one pilot project allowing cameras in trial courtrooms and is considering a new project (approved since this nomination).
  • The Supreme Court updated its Administrative Rule 9 to take into account issues raised by a digital environment.
  • The Supreme Court issued an order reducing the incidence of trial court judges agreeing to draw a veil of secrecy around specific cases.