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Amish advocates

October 9, 2013
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It is rare that members of northern Indiana’s Amish communities have a need for legal representation. When they do, they turn to a neighbor they know and trust.

“I’ve got a lot of Amish clients,” said Richard Muntz, whose office on U.S. 20 outside LaGrange sees its share of passing horse-drawn buggies. Muntz also lives on a farm with Amish neighbors where he raises Highland beef cattle.
 

amish-15col.jpg Horses and buggies are hitched outside the courthouse in LaGrange County, where attorneys who work with Amish clients say familiarity builds trust. (IL Photo/ Dave Stafford)

“They go by the farm and they see me out working with livestock and such,” Muntz said. “Like anybody else, you speak somebody’s language, that makes everyone comfortable.”

Muntz estimated about 20 to 30 percent of his clients are Amish, and he and other attorneys said a small group of lawyers represent clients among the approximately 20,000 people who live in the Elkhart-LaGrange settlement, the world’s third-largest.

Indiana Sen. Sue Glick, R-LaGrange, is among those who count a significant number of Amish clients in her hometown law practice. She went to elementary school in Shipshewana with Amish classmates, and her grandparents belonged to an Amish order before becoming Mennonites.

“What happens is when (Amish) know they have an attorney they can trust and they’re comfortable with, they will go back to that attorney,” Glick said. “Word of mouth is tremendous in an area this size.”

Glick said patience is important when counseling Amish clients whose inclination is to follow biblical teachings of turning the other cheek.

“If you’re not attuned to the Amish, you tend to become frustrated with trying to give them advice, because you say to an ‘English’ client, ‘You can file suit,’” Glick said, using the term Amish typically use to refer to outsiders. “With an Amish person, the first thing you’re going to rule out is legal action. You approach it differently.”

For the most part, Amish people do what they must in the legal system, attorneys say. Matters brought to lawyers primarily involve estates and wills, real estate matters and tax assistance. But there also is the occasional Amish divorce.

Leon Yoder of Shipshewana grew up in an Amish household but now is Mennonite. Yoder runs a sign shop and promotes an event center that markets locally made goods. He said most Amish would never initiate a lawsuit but will protect their interests.

Yoder remembered an incident from his childhood in which a horse pulling a carriage he was driving broke loose and ran into a car causing damage.

“I remember dad did go to a local attorney to have him represent him,” Yoder said. “His intended goal was, he wanted to make things right.”

Family matters

Growing up among Amish neighbors and working on Amish farms as a boy gave Richard W. Rogers of Middlebury credibility when he became an attorney. “I kind of felt like I understood their lifestyle,” he said, the center of which is family.

Rogers said about 20 percent of his clients are Amish, and they participate with reluctance in legal matters. “I do think there’s an element of mistrust, and they do have to feel comfortable with you,” he said.

Amish life is organized around church districts, and each is governed by “Ordnung.” Those rules establish, among other things, the kinds of modern amenities permitted in each district, according to David Friedman, a professor of law at Santa Clara University.

“The Amish have serious reservations with regard to the legal system, I think largely because their pacifism extends to not wanting to impose criminal punishments,” according to Friedman, who included a chapter about Amish law in his forthcoming book, “Legal Systems Very Different from Ours.”

A nod to tradition can be seen in the land contracts Muntz prepares for Amish clients. He noted a provision in those agreements reflecting the family ties that bind generations.

“My land contract forms have paragraphs in them that say the sale includes a life estate,” Muntz said. Properties usually have two or more houses on them, and when a retiring generation sells to a subsequent generation, care of the elders is part of the deal, Muntz explained.

Glick said most Amish properties have what’s called a “Dawdy House” where the older generation lives after the sale of a property. She said Amish clients are likelier than most to have made decisions about such things before they consult an attorney.
 

amish-richard-muntz-15col.jpg Attorney Richard Muntz of LaGrange says Amish clients are frequently targeted by scammers who threaten to report them to their community’s religious leaders if they fail to pay some claim. “It happens all the time,” Muntz said. (IL Photo/ Dave Stafford)

“I think they try and stay within where they are, within their church, within their relationships,” Glick said. “They pretty much know where they want to be.”

Amish clients also take pains to make sure that estates are divided evenly among heirs, so that if one child is buying the farm, for instance, other children get an equitable share of the estate, Glick added.

In his practice, Rogers also occasionally serves as a public defender, and he said Amish sometimes have an involuntary introduction to the legal system. “You see a lot of these Amish kids in LaGrange court on drug and alcohol charges,” he said. Even then, he sees a system that appears to recognize the unusually close ties.

“My assessment is the court somehow deals with disposing of those cases a little differently,” Rogers said. “They take that Amish background and close-knit nature of the families into account.”

On the defensive

Because Amish avoid legal confrontation, attorneys say that’s left them vulnerable to scams, and there are operators who specifically prey on the community.
 

rogers-richard.jpg Rogers

Attorneys offered as an example traveling salesmen who pitch high-priced trust and estate documents, often accompanied by free gifts whose value is highly overstated. These pitches frequently use scare tactics including the specter that the state may take their land if they don’t act.

Rogers said of his Amish clients, “They’re not as reluctant (to go to court) as you think they are when it comes to being swindled.”

Amish clients have entrusted Rogers to protect their interests, for instance, when a client came to him and complained about a salesman who’d come to the area selling hearing aids for several thousand dollars that turned out to be substandard.

Rogers said he’s also been able to go after unscrupulous “living will” peddlers who charge several thousand dollars for work any attorney could have done for a few hundred. “I’ve encountered a number of clients who’ve been involved in those,” he said. “It’s completely absurd.”

A common misconception, attorneys said, is that Amish won’t pursue damages in court. While the order typically shuns insurance, members are not opposed to pressing claims when they’ve been injured, for instance.

Dorothy Yoder is Amish and said she was hurt in an accident many years ago and retained Scott VanDerbeck when the insurance company didn’t compensate her. Yoder said the process took longer than it should have, but she was satisfied with the outcome.


vanderbeck-scott.jpg VanDerbeck

VanDerbeck, who now has been LaGrange Circuit Judge for 17 years, said while about 40 percent of the county’s population is Amish, “they don’t constitute 40 percent of the cases by any stretch of the imagination.”

Muntz said he’s been contacted in the past by worried Amish clients who relay that someone has threatened to report them to their bishop if they fail to pay some claim.

“It happens all the time,” Muntz said. “I tell them, this is, or this is not, a legitimate demand, and if it’s not a legitimate demand, I suggest to them, OK, if the bishop gives you a hard time, tell them to call me.”•

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  1. Am I the only one who sees that the City is essentially giving away the MSA site AND giving millions to build new buildings on the site when this site would be the perfect place for the Justice Complex? Across from City-County, check; keeping it centrally located, check, etc. It's my understanding that the GM site must be purchased by the City from Motors Liquidation Company. STOP WASTING WHAT WE ALREADY HAVE AND OUR TAX DOLLARS! The Ballard Administration has not been known for it's common sense...never voted for him and never will!

  2. This guy sounds like the classic molester/manipulator.

  3. Louis D. Brandeis was born in 1856. At 9 years of age it would have been 1865. The Brandeis family did not own slaves. My source Louis D. Brandeis: A Life, by Melvin L. Urofsky.

  4. My name is Matthew Lucas Major, I recently went through a jury trial in Bloomington , In. It was the week of Feb 19-21. Although I have been incarcerated since August 5, 2014. The reason I 'am writing to you sir is on the 21 of February the jury came in with a very excessive and wrongful verdict of guilty on 6 child molesting charges against my daughter who was 9 at the time I was accused. I also had 2 other Felonies one of Intimidation and 1 of Sexual Vicarious Gratification. Judge Marc Kellam on the second day of trial gave me a not guilty on those 2 felonies. The jury was sent out during that time and when brought back Judge Kellam told them to not concern themselves with the 2 Felonies that he ruled on them. They were told to not let evidence they had already heard influence there verdicts. I never in my life touched any child sexually and definitely not with my own daughter. When I was arrested Detective Shawn Karr told me I would be convicted guilty just on my daughters word even without evidence. That's just what happened. my public defender did me so wrong he never once proved to the court and jury all the lies the child told, and Jeremy Noel my public defender could of proven the lies easily. The stories in Serenity's depositions and Forensic interview changed and were not consistent as Prosecutor Darcie Fawcett claimed they were. Yet my attorney never mentioned that. The facts that the child accused me of full penetration in her vagina and rectum was proven lies. Doctor Roberta Hibbard of Riley hospital in Indianapolis confirmed Serenity's hymen intact, no scars, no tearing, no signs of rape to her. Yet my attorney didn't use that knowledge . the DNA was all in my favor. I tell you I will spend my entire life in prison going through rape and beatings etc. even Judge Kellam abused his authority by telling the jurors to listen and believe what the prosecutors side in evidence like my daughters testimony. In one interview with the detectives my daughter got flustered with her mom and said on camera " I'm saying what you told me to mom"!! Yet Mr. Noel said nor did anything to even resemble a defense attorney. Judge Kellam allowed edited version of a taped conversation between the child and her mother. Also Judge Kellam allowed the Prosecutor too bring in to my case a knife found under my seat, the knife wasn't part of my case. She was allowed by my attorney and the judge to put a huge picture of it on the screen and huge picture of my naked privates in a full courtroom and open court. Ms. Fawcett says to jury see how easy Mr. Major could reach the knife and cut his Childs throat. Even though I had no weapons charge against these cases. This gave the jurors prejudice thought against me thinking I threatened her with that knife and how scared she would of been knowing i could get it and kill her. On my sentencing court March 19, 2014 my public defender told Judge Kellam he wish to resign from being my attorney and wished for the court to give me outside council to file a error to trial or appeal. We were denied. Now after openly knowing my public defender don't want to represent me he has to. Well when as parents we make our kids clean a room when they really don't wish to, well the child will but don't mean she will do a good job, that's where I'm at with Mr. Noel. please dont ignore mine and my families pleas for your help . we have all the legal proof you could need to prove Im innocent. Please dont make my spend years in prison innocent when you can fix this wrong. Im not saying Im a perfect man or that I was a perfect dad to my 2 children none of us are. Ive made some bad choices in life and I paid for them. But I didnt ever touch or rape my daughter . I love my children with all my heart. And now through needing attention and a ex-wife who told my granny several times she wish she could put me in prison to get me out of their lives. Well my ex finally accomplished her goal. Sad part is she is destroying our daughter with all this horrific lies and things she taught my daughter to say. My daughter will need therapist to ever hope for a chance of a normal life after what she had done to her by her mom and their side of the family. My daughter told everyone even on stand she had a dream months before i supposedly molested her in this dream I was molesting her and when I finally did it matched her dream perfectly. She admitted to watching movies about little girls being molested and watching U-Tube videos about child molesting all before it happened supposedly to her. Doesn't that sound very unusual that a non molested 9 yr old would need to know so much about being molested? The only reason I could think a 9 year old would need so much information is to be prepared to know what to say and be able to say how it felt what took place etc.. So when questioned by authorities she would be prepared. And there again sir if a parent is pre grooming a 9 year old child she would need intimate details . Like telling her daughter about a couple moles on my private area. The child admitted to sneaking my cell and looking many many times at nudes of me and my girlfriend even one where my penis was entering my girlfriends vagina. In that picture my moles are obvious. Yet when prosecutor showed everyone in court my privates and pictures of the moles she said the only way the child would know about them is if she saw them for herself. My attorney once again said nothing about the pictures my child saw. Or could a ex-wife be able to describe my moles to help her case against getting rid of me? I beg you help me. This is my very existence. Ive lost everything , a good job, a wonderful girlfriend, my freedom, but worse thing Ive lost is my children. They were my reason to get up every morning and strive to be better. The wonderful bond I had with my Serenity is gone. After this I would be afraid to even hug her for fear of what next can they do to me. I'm not afraid to tell you I sit here in this cell and try to hold back my tears. Everyone knows you cant show weakness in prison. My life has already been threatened here at Wabash Valley Prison. After only 3 days of arrival. I was tricked into signing a waiver now Im in G Block General Population with 6 child molesting felony charges. Mrs. Hart as a 18 year old I almost died hooked to machines in hospital almost 1 month and now I know that fear was childish compared to this . I cant help but put emotions in this, after all Mrs. Hart Im human and God help Me I never been more afraid in my life. I didnt hurt my little girl I didnt touch her sexually. As much as it shreds me and fills my mind what Im facing I worry more about my mom and granny because of their great love for me mam they are suffering so deeply. I aint done this things but my loved ones suffering right along beside me and If you take my case you will be in essence freeing them also. I sent momma this letter and asked her to email it to you. I'm scared I have been done so unjustly by our legal system and I need you to fix this and give me freedom. I ask you please don't just ignore my pleas. Here in America its nice to be able to trust our legal justice system, well they destroyed my and my loved ones trust in our justice system . And I'm trusting in You !!! My entire family is suffering this nightmare with me. My 77 year old granny had a stroke and isn't doing so well. My single mother that raised 3 kids alone is dying from Lupus and since my arrest has stayed so sick and weary. Our lives torn to peices by a government I was taught I could trust in. my momma has tried so many innocent project and wrongfully accused and cant get anywhere. please please help me. A quote from the late Nelson Mandela: To be free is not merely to cast off ones chains, But to live in a way that respects and enhances The Freedom Of Others. I have Faith in you and your clinic to cast my chains off and give me freedom I do deserve as a wrongfully accused Man, son, brother, father, friend. Matthew Major DOC# 246179 Cause # : 53c02-1308-FA-000779 God Bless you. Please contact me with your decision so I know you made a life changing decision for me , just please at least write me so I know you care enough about your citizens to respond to cries for your help. You can speak openly with my mother Charlotte Spain (828) 476-0406: 71 Lakeview Dr. Canton, NC 28716 Thank You Matthew Major I know yall get thousands of request and inmates claiming innocence, and each person who are innocent deserve to have organizations like yours willing to fight for them and I give yall so much Thanks and I thank God everyday yall are out there caring enough to help free the innocents. Since discovering firsthand how easily lives and families can be destroyed by Poor Defense attorneys not doing their job . And Prosecutors allowed to do as they please in court

  5. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

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