Area native top 15 finalist

A Columbus native is in the running to become the next justice of the Indiana Supreme Court.

The state’s Judicial Nominating Committee, which screens potential Supreme Court justices, named Mark Lienhoop as one of 15 semifinalists chosen to interview for an upcoming open spot on the state’s highest court.

Lienhoop’s interview has been scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday.

If selected, Mark Lienhoop would replace Supreme Court Justice Brent Dickson, who is retiring from the five-member court in April.

Lienhoop, 59, the younger brother of Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop, was born and raised in Columbus. He graduated from Columbus North High School in 1974 before moving to the northern part of the state to attend Valparaiso University and Valparaiso University School of Law.

The younger Lienhoop stayed in northern Indiana after finishing law school to take a job as an associate attorney with the law firm of Newby, Lewis, Kaminski and Jones in LaPorte in 1983. He continues to work there as a managing partner today.

Becoming a member of the Indiana Supreme Court is a relatively new dream, Lienhoop said. He has spent the past 33 years doing both trial and appellate work for his LaPorte law firm, a job he said he has always enjoyed. However, now that his children are living on their own, the lawyer said he is at a point in his life where he can make a change in his career.

“I wanted to do something to give back to the judicial system that has been so good to me,” Lienhoop said. “Being on the Supreme Court, that would be the best possible use of my skills to help people.”

If selected, Lienhoop would become a second state Supreme Court justice with ties to Columbus. Justice Steven David, who joined the court in 2010, is also a Columbus native who graduated from Columbus North High School in 1975.

Being a member of the state’s highest judicial body requires complete impartiality, a trait Lienhoop said he is confident he would bring to the Supreme Court. He also said he would insist on civility between the justices, lawyers and clients involved in each case the court hears.

He has a particular interest in the work the court is doing to reform the juvenile corrections systems.

Through the Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative, the court is working to help juvenile offenders get the jobs and education they need after they are released back into society to lower the risk of repeat offenses that would send them into the adult judicial system.

The initiative is a proven success and has saved the states millions of dollars by keeping young offenders out of the court system, Lienhoop said.

“It’s exciting and it’s something that I think could help and that I want to be apart of,” he said.

Lienhoop’s lofty ambitions come as no surprise to his older brother.

“Mark’s always been interested in the academic side of the law,” Jim Lienhoop said. “The vast majority of (his career) was doing defense work for personal injury, so he’s pretty knowledgeable on those topics.”

Out of the 30 people who applied to fill the Supreme Court vacancy, 29 were interviewed during the week of Feb. 15. The seven-member Judicial Nominating Committee selected 15 to move on to the second round of interviews, which will be Thursday and Friday. Nine of the 15 semifinalists are judges.

All of the interviews will be open to the public, held in Room 319 of the Indiana Statehouse. After going into executive session to deliberate at 12:30 p.m. Friday, the nominating committee will vote publicly to send three nominees to Gov. Mike Pence, who will choose the next justice from the group of three.

Mark Lienhoop bio

Mark Lienhoop, 59, graduated from Columbus North High School in 1974. He attended Valparaiso University, where he earned a political science degree in 1978. He then enrolled in Valparaiso’s School of Law and graduated in 1981 as a Top 10 student.

From 1981 to 1983, Lienhoop clerked for Robert Staton, a third district judge for the Indiana Court of Appeals. Lienhoop joined the law firm Newby, Lewis, Kaminski and Jones in LaPorte as an associate attorney in July of 1983. He became a partner of the firm in 1989 and a managing partner in 1987, a position he still holds today.

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Olivia Covington is a reporter for The Republic. She can be reached at ocovington@therepublic.com or 812-379-5712.