Retired Justice Prentice Passes Away in Arizona
Justice Dixon Wright Prentice, ’42, who was among the last of the judges directly elected to the Indiana Supreme Court, died July 20 in Tucson, Arizona. He was 95.
Prentice was an Associate Justice on the Indiana Supreme Court from 1971 to 1985. He was succeeded on the bench by another IU McKinney alumnus, current Chief Justice Brent Dickson, ’68, who was elevated to the high court in 1986.
Earlier in Prentice’s career, he had been a lawyer in Jeffersonville, Indiana. In 1970, Indiana voters amended the state constitution so that the governor would appoint one of three judicial candidates selected by a bipartisan commission, a change that went into effect in 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.
Instead, he was directly elected.
Prentice was born June 3, 1919, in Sellersburg, Indiana. 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.
He married Phyllis Ropa December 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 ship retrieved the wounded from the beaches of Normandy after the D-Day invasion. He remained in the Navy Reserve, retiring after 20 years as a Lt. Commander.
From 1946 to 1970, he practiced law in southern Indiana, where he was part of the firm Prentice & Prentice with his father and brother, Robert Prentice.
He drafted nearly 700 legal opinions during his years as associate justice, and served for many years 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.
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, Florida, Alec Prentice of Melbourne, Florida, Robin Rauzi of Los Angeles, California, and Nicole Rauzi of Annapolis, Maryland. 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.