ILNews

Amish advocates

October 9, 2013
Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

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.”•

ADVERTISEMENT

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
ADVERTISEMENT
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. California Sex Offender Management Board (CASOMB) End of Year Report 2014. (page 13) Under the current system many local registering agencies are challenged just keeping up with registration paperwork. It takes an hour or more to process each registrant, the majority of whom are low risk offenders. As a result law enforcement cannot monitor higher risk offenders more intensively in the community due to the sheer numbers on the registry. Some of the consequences of lengthy and unnecessary registration requirements actually destabilize the life’s of registrants and those -such as families- whose lives are often substantially impacted. Such consequences are thought to raise levels of known risk factors while providing no discernible benefit in terms of community safety. The full report is available online at. http://www.casomb.org/index.cfm?pid=231 National Institute of Justice (NIJ) US Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs United States of America. The overall conclusion is that Megan’s law has had no demonstrated effect on sexual offenses in New Jersey, calling into question the justification for start-up and operational costs. Megan’s Law has had no effect on time to first rearrest for known sex offenders and has not reduced sexual reoffending. Neither has it had an impact on the type of sexual reoffense or first-time sexual offense. The study also found that the law had not reduced the number of victims of sexual offenses. The full report is available online at. https://www.ncjrs.gov/app/publications/abstract.aspx? ID=247350 The University of Chicago Press for The Booth School of Business of the University of Chicago and The University of Chicago Law School Article DOI: 10.1086/658483 Conclusion. The data in these three data sets do not strongly support the effectiveness of sex offender registries. The national panel data do not show a significant decrease in the rate of rape or the arrest rate for sexual abuse after implementation of a registry via the Internet. The BJS data that tracked individual sex offenders after their release in 1994 did not show that registration had a significantly negative effect on recidivism. And the D.C. crime data do not show that knowing the location of sex offenders by census block can help protect the locations of sexual abuse. This pattern of noneffectiveness across the data sets does not support the conclusion that sex offender registries are successful in meeting their objectives of increasing public safety and lowering recidivism rates. The full report is available online at. http://www.jstor.org/stable/full/10.1086/658483 These are not isolated conclusions but are the same outcomes in the majority of conclusions and reports on this subject from multiple government agencies and throughout the academic community. People, including the media and other organizations should not rely on and reiterate the statements and opinions of the legislators or other people as to the need for these laws because of the high recidivism rates and the high risk offenders pose to the public which simply is not true and is pure hyperbole and fiction. They should rely on facts and data collected and submitted in reports from the leading authorities and credible experts in the fields such as the following. California Sex Offender Management Board (CASOMB) Sex offender recidivism rate for a new sex offense is 0.8% (page 30) The full report is available online at http://www.cdcr.ca.gov/Adult_Research_Branch/Research_Documents/2014_Outcome_Evaluation_Report_7-6-2015.pdf California Sex Offender Management Board (CASOMB) (page 38) Sex offender recidivism rate for a new sex offense is 1.8% The full report is available online at. http://www.google.com/url?sa= t&source=web&cd=1&ved= 0CCEQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F% 2Fwww.cdcr.ca.gov%2FAdult_ Research_Branch%2FResearch_ documents%2FOutcome_ evaluation_Report_2013.pdf&ei= C9dSVePNF8HfoATX-IBo&usg=AFQjCNE9I6ueHz-o2mZUnuxLPTyiRdjDsQ Bureau of Justice Statistics 5 PERCENT OF SEX OFFENDERS REARRESTED FOR ANOTHER SEX CRIME WITHIN 3 YEARS OF PRISON RELEASE WASHINGTON, D.C. Within 3 years following their 1994 state prison release, 5.3 percent of sex offenders (men who had committed rape or sexual assault) were rearrested for another sex crime, the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) announced today. The full report is available online at. http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/press/rsorp94pr.cfm Document title; A Model of Static and Dynamic Sex Offender Risk Assessment Author: Robert J. McGrath, Michael P. Lasher, Georgia F. Cumming Document No.: 236217 Date Received: October 2011 Award Number: 2008-DD-BX-0013 Findings: Study of 759 adult male offenders under community supervision Re-arrest rate: 4.6% after 3-year follow-up The sexual re-offense rates for the 746 released in 2005 are much lower than what many in the public have been led to expect or believe. These low re-offense rates appear to contradict a conventional wisdom that sex offenders have very high sexual re-offense rates. The full report is available online at. https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/236217.pdf Document Title: SEX OFFENDER SENTENCING IN WASHINGTON STATE: RECIDIVISM RATES BY: Washington State Institute For Public Policy. A study of 4,091 sex offenders either released from prison or community supervision form 1994 to 1998 and examined for 5 years Findings: Sex Crime Recidivism Rate: 2.7% Link to Report: http://www.oncefallen.com/files/Washington_SO_Recid_2005.pdf Document Title: Indiana’s Recidivism Rates Decline for Third Consecutive Year BY: Indiana Department of Correction 2009. The recidivism rate for sex offenders returning on a new sex offense was 1.05%, one of the lowest in the nation. In a time when sex offenders continue to face additional post-release requirements that often result in their return to prison for violating technical rules such as registration and residency restrictions, the instances of sex offenders returning to prison due to the commitment of a new sex crime is extremely low. Findings: sex offenders returning on a new sex offense was 1.05% Link to Report: http://www.in.gov/idoc/files/RecidivismRelease.pdf Once again, These are not isolated conclusions but are the same outcomes in the majority of reports on this subject from multiple government agencies and throughout the academic community. No one can doubt that child sexual abuse is traumatic and devastating. The question is not whether the state has an interest in preventing such harm, but whether current laws are effective in doing so. Megan’s law is a failure and is destroying families and their children’s lives and is costing tax payers millions upon millions of dollars. The following is just one example of the estimated cost just to implement SORNA which many states refused to do. From Justice Policy Institute. Estimated cost to implement SORNA Here are some of the estimates made in 2009 expressed in 2014 current dollars: California, $66M; Florida, $34M; Illinois, $24M; New York, $35M; Pennsylvania, $22M; Texas, $44M. In 2014 dollars, Virginia’s estimate for implementation was $14M, and the annual operating cost after that would be $10M. For the US, the total is $547M. That’s over half a billion dollars – every year – for something that doesn’t work. http://www.justicepolicy.org/images/upload/08-08_FAC_SORNACosts_JJ.pdf. Attempting to use under-reporting to justify the existence of the registry is another myth, or a lie. This is another form of misinformation perpetrated by those who either have a fiduciary interest in continuing the unconstitutional treatment of a disfavored group or are seeking to justify their need for punishment for people who have already paid for their crime by loss of their freedom through incarceration and are now attempting to reenter society as honest citizens. When this information is placed into the public’s attention by naive media then you have to wonder if the media also falls into one of these two groups that are not truly interested in reporting the truth. Both of these groups of people that have that type of mentality can be classified as vigilantes, bullies, or sociopaths, and are responsible for the destruction of our constitutional values and the erosion of personal freedoms in this country. I think the media or other organizations need to do a in depth investigation into the false assumptions and false data that has been used to further these laws and to research all the collateral damages being caused by these laws and the unconstitutional injustices that are occurring across the country. They should include these injustices in their report so the public can be better informed on what is truly happening in this country on this subject. Thank you for your time.

  2. Freedom as granted in the Constitution cannot be summarily disallowed without Due Process. Unable to to to the gym, church, bowling alley? What is this 1984 level nonsense? Congrats to Brian for having the courage to say that this was enough! and Congrats to the ACLU on the win!

  3. America's hyper-phobia about convicted sex offenders must end! Politicians must stop pandering to knee-jerk public hysteria. And the public needs to learn the facts. Research by the California Sex Offender Management Board as shown a recidivism rate for convicted sex offenders of less than 1%. Less than 1%! Furthermore, research shows that by year 17 after their conviction, a convicted sex offender is no more likely to commit a new sex offense than any other member of the public. Put away your torches and pitchforks. Get the facts. Stop hysteria.

  4. He was convicted 23 years ago. How old was he then? He probably was a juvenile. People do stupid things, especially before their brain is fully developed. Why are we continuing to punish him in 2016? If he hasn't re-offended by now, it's very, very unlikely he ever will. He paid for his mistake sufficiently. Let him live his life in peace.

  5. This year, Notre Dame actually enrolled an equal amount of male and female students.

ADVERTISEMENT