Goff embraces new duties

Chris Goff

By Joseph Slacian

As a high school student, Chris Goff wasn’t certain he would go to college.

As a junior or senior at Southwood High School, he was convinced to apply to college. He did, and soon developed an interest in the legal profession.

It was a decision well made, for today, Goff is now in his second week as the newest justice on the Indiana Supreme Court. He was appointed to the post on June 12 by Gov. Eric Holcomb, and was sworn in on July 24.

“I decided to go to college when we moved from Huntington and I became a student at Southwood,” Goff told The Paper of Wabash County in a telephone interview from his office in Indianapolis. “There was a counselor there named Bob Dawes who encouraged me to go to college.”

Goff graduated from Ball State University in Muncie, and was then accepted at the now Maurer School of Law at Indiana University in Bloomington. After working at Mills & Northrop (and later Mills Northrop & Goff LLP), a Huntington law firm, he was appointed Wabash County Superior Court Judge in 2005, replacing Michael Sposeep who retired from the position.

“I always wanted to be a judge, but that’s not always easy to do,” he said. “The opportunities have to come along. My opportunity came in 2005 when Judge Sposeep retired and the governor began seeking applicants for the Superior Court bench. I was fortunate enough to get the appointment.”

Goff said he enjoyed his time on the bench here in Wabash County.

“I loved the job,” he said. “It was an honor and a privilege to work in Wabash with so many great people in my hometown. I had always hoped to get that chance, but I really didn’t expect to. I thought I would just go on practicing.”

While on the bench here, Goff was instrumental in starting the Wabash County Drug Court and Re-entry Court.

“Establishing problem solving courts in Wabash County is probably the best work I’ve done in my professional career because problem solving courts are really a way for a person who gets into legal trouble to focus on the reason it happened and to address it and remedy it.

“I thought when I started judicial services in Wabash County that establishing a Drug Court would be one small way that I could help address the problem associated with drug abuse in our community. Over time, the thing that I really came to appreciate was how all of the different stakeholders in the program bought into the concept. And what was really cool was to see the folks that went through the program and succeeded, come to love and appreciate themselves and to view the criminal justice system differently.”

The court not only helped the individual, but it also served to help families.

“I remember some drug court graduations where these folks would bring in their families,” Goff said. “You’d see little kids walk into the court room who never before had any kind of positive experience with the law enforcement, or judges, or lawyers, and they were proud of their parents. They really, I think, viewed what we do in the criminal justice system differently.

“They had hope, and it was well placed hope. They had opportunities that they would otherwise not have had it not been for their loved ones’ hard work to solve their problems.”

Since being sworn in to the Indiana Supreme Court in late July, he’s been learning about and getting situated into the new position.

“It’s a big jump as you can imagine,” Goff said, “but you can also imagine it’s a pretty cool place to work. The other justices are really supportive. The support staff that they have in place here, they’re just really good at what they do. It’s been a lot of fun so far.”

But, Goff admits, this is a slow time for the Indiana Supreme Court.

The Indiana Supreme Court is a court of last resort, Goff explained. It takes cases through a process called transfer.

“In Indiana, you have the right to one appeal,” he continued, “and most appeals are to the Indiana Court of Appeals. Some cases, a limited number of circumstances are direct cases to the Indiana Supreme Court, but most aren’t.”

Most cases arrive at the Indiana Supreme Court after a person loses their first appeal, they are able to file a petition for transfer.

“Once that happens, those petitions are considered by the justices,” Goff said. “If one justice thinks it is a topic worth discussion, then the issue will be discussed in conference. Ultimately, a decision will be made as to whether transfer will be made from the Court of Appeals.”

While oral arguments won’t begin until Sept. 7, there are still plenty of other things to read and other administrative duties to tend to, he said.

Although he was sworn in just more than two weeks ago, a formal robbing ceremony has yet to take place. That is expected to happen on Sept. 1 in Indianapolis.

Looking back on his time in Wabash, Goff said, “I enjoyed my work. I never really viewed it as work, most days.

“I tried not to leave before it got done, and I tried to make myself available to the folks who relied on the court. I tried to get it right. I hope I have done that.”

Posted on 2017 Aug 08