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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. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  2. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  3. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

  4. When I hear 'Juvenile Lawyer' I think of an attorney helping a high school aged kid through the court system for a poor decision; like smashing mailboxes. Thank you for opening up my eyes to the bigger picture of the need for juvenile attorneys. It made me sad, but also fascinated, when it was explained, in the sixth paragraph, that parents making poor decisions (such as drug abuse) can cause situations where children need legal representation and aid from a lawyer.

  5. Some in the Hoosier legal elite consider this prayer recommended by the AG seditious, not to mention the Saint who pledged loyalty to God over King and went to the axe for so doing: "Thomas More, counselor of law and statesman of integrity, merry martyr and most human of saints: Pray that, for the glory of God and in the pursuit of His justice, I may be trustworthy with confidences, keen in study, accurate in analysis, correct in conclusion, able in argument, loyal to clients, honest with all, courteous to adversaries, ever attentive to conscience. Sit with me at my desk and listen with me to my clients' tales. Read with me in my library and stand always beside me so that today I shall not, to win a point, lose my soul. Pray that my family may find in me what yours found in you: friendship and courage, cheerfulness and charity, diligence in duties, counsel in adversity, patience in pain—their good servant, and God's first. Amen."

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