INDIANAPOLIS -- As Gov. Frank O'Bannon lay in critical condition following a stroke, the state Supreme Court formally transferred power Wednesday to Indiana's lieutenant governor.
Legislative leaders filed a petition to transfer power after receiving a written statement from O'Bannon's doctor and invoked a process spelled out in the state constitution for officially handing power to Lt. Gov. Joe Kernan.
"We are making historical precedent here today. We wanted to make sure, absolutely sure, the family was in agreement. The doctors were in agreement," said Democratic House Speaker Patrick Bauer, who joined with Republican Sen. President Pro Tem Robert Garton to file the petition.
"I want to emphasize, Gov. O'Bannon is still the governor of Indiana, and Judy O'Bannon is still the first lady of Indiana," Garton said.
Doctors said O'Bannon, 73, had emerged from a drug-induced coma, but was under sedation and showed some "small but significant improvements."
He remained in critical condition.
O'Bannon responded to commands to wiggle his toes and some physical stimulation, doctors said.
"At this early going, making long-term prognostications is really, really difficult," Dr. Hunt Batjer said.
The governor's wife, Judy, issued a statement saying she was comfortable with the formalized power transfer. Legislative leaders had said they wanted the family's approval before proceeding.
"We are aware of the formal process that is occurring in Indiana, and in it we are seeing what we have always known: Our state government is a strong institution based on a constitution," Judy O'Bannon said.
Justices met privately for about an hour before issuing their decision. Chief Justice Randall Shepard said state officials acted on what they believe the governor would have wanted.
"We know what he wants and expects of us -- to be at our posts and act in the way that the people of Indiana expect under this situation," Shepard said. "We do our best to do that, however heavy our hearts are about what has happened to him."
After the order was issued, Shepard joined more than 500 people in the Statehouse rotunda for an interfaith service.
As acting governor, Kernan attended a forum to promote an economic development package he and O'Bannon pushed through the General Assembly this year.
O'Bannon, a Democrat in his second term, was found in his pajamas, unconscious and near death, on the floor of his Chicago hotel room Monday morning. He had gone to the city to attend an economic conference. He had suffered a type of stroke that involves bleeding in the brain.
Kernan earlier became acting governor under a provision in the state constitution that allows him to temporarily carry on business without a formal transfer of power.
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