Dixon Prentice, 95, a Jeffersonville lawyer elected to the Indiana Supreme Court, died July 20 in Tucson, Ariz.
Prentice was an Associate Justice on the state Supreme Court from 1971 to 1985. He had previously been a lawyer in Jeffersonville, Ind.
In 1970, Indiana voters amended the state constitution so that the governor would appoint one of three judicial candidates selected by a bipartisan commission. But that change didn’t go into effect until 1972. Prentice, who had never served as a judge or prosecutor, ran on the Democratic ticket in 1970 hoping to gain some recognition for a potential appointment later on.
He was as surprised as anyone that he won.
Prentice was born June 3, 1919, in Sellersburg, Ind., the youngest of Walter Earl Prentice and Maude Wilson Prentice’s five children. He attended school in Jeffersonville, but graduated from high school in Redkey, Ind., because the Prentices were among the 1 million people made homeless during the Ohio River Flood of 1937.
He received an LL.B. in 1942 from the Indiana Law School in Indianapolis, which became affiliated with Indiana University two years later (and is now the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law). Prentice and his classmates were finishing their classes in late 1941 when the United States entered World War II after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Many of the young men were enlisting in the armed forces, and it was unclear when, or if, they would be able to take the bar exam before shipping out.
Prentice was sent as a representative of his class to offices of the supreme court to inquire about the bar exam. The chief justice asked him about what classes they had completed and what exactly they had learned. The questioning went on for some time, broke for lunch, and then continued. Prentice said it gradually dawned on him that this was an oral bar exam. Apparently he passed – and his whole class was admitted to the bar.
He married Phyllis Ropa Dec. 20, 1941. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy as a seaman in 1942, and was commissioned as an ensign during his training. He served on an LST (landing ship, tanks) in the Europe, Africa and Middle East campaigns, and in 1944 his retrofitted ship retrieved the wounded from the beaches of Normandy after the D-Day invasion. He remained in the Navy Reserve, retiring after 20 years at a Lt. Commander.
From 1946 to 1970, he practiced law in southern Indiana, where he was part of the firm Prentice and Prentice with his father and brother, Robert Prentice. He was a principal partner in the group that developed and built Greentree Mall in Clarksville, Ind. He founded the Jeffersonville chapter of the American Field Service, and was instrumental in bringing the first foreign exchange students to Jeffersonville High School.
He was an avid Indiana University basketball fan, and after moving to Tucson, he added the University of Arizona to his list of favorite teams.
He drafted nearly 700 legal opinions during his years as associate justice, and served for many years on as a commissioner of the National Conference on Uniform State Laws. Interviewed in 2008 for the book Justices of the Indiana Supreme Court, Prentice noted that his impact on the judiciary was probably lastingly felt in two trial rules he spearheaded. They set limits on how long a judge has to issue decisions, and are known as the “lazy judge rule.” It was inspired by his frustrations as a lawyer in Clark County.
“We had a judge who would listen to two attorneys argue over a two day trial, and then tell them to ‘work it out’ when we were all finished,” he said. “Heck, if we could have worked it out we wouldn’t have been trying it in the first place. That lazy judge rule made them make a decision.”
Prentice is survived by his wife, Phyllis Ropa Prentice; two children, Penelope (Penny) Rauzi of Mount Vernon, Ohio, and William Wright Prentice of Tucson; and four grandchildren: Richard Prentice, of Stewart, Fla., Alec Prentice of Melbourne Fla., Robin Rauzi of Los Angeles, Calif., and Nicole Rauzi, Annapolis, Md. He was preceded in death by his son Peter Kimmel Prentice and his four siblings, Edith Alice (Lally) Dolian, Robert J. Prentice, Joy Goodwin, and Wilson E. (Buzz) Prentice.
Goliath met him once…not in court…in an Art Studio. Goliath a little concerned the News Tribune give such a piddly obituary. How many dad blasted Indiana Supreme Court Justices does Jeff have to boast of? He also Uncle of one of Goliath’s hero.