Attorney, ex-appellate clerk dies suddenly

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2008
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A Fort Wayne and Indianapolis health-care law attorney who'd previously served as the governor's counsel and as state appellate clerk in the 1990s died suddenly Tuesday night.

John Okeson, 43, died at Lutheran Hospital in Fort Wayne after suffering from a short flu-like illness during the past week; he was admitted to the hospital late Sunday or Monday, according to his legal colleagues. The county coroner's office told media that Okeson had been sick and admitted to the hospital, where staff determined he had a serious sepsis-like condition of unknown origin.

His legal colleagues say the news shocked them particularly because Okeson was known as one of the healthiest people around, running regularly and competing in triathlons and swimming.

The Fort Wayne native graduated from Indiana University School of Law - Indianapolis in 1989, going to work as an associate at the Fort Wayne office of Baker & Daniels. He later left to successfully run for the statewide position of clerk of the appellate courts, which at the time was an elected position.

Current Appellate Clerk Kevin Smith said he didn't know Okeson well, but his staff pointed out that Okeson restored dignity to the office in the 1990s, uplifted morale, and gave the public the ability to trust and have confidence in the clerk's office.

"My employees saw John as a forward-thinking man, studying the functions ... and making improvements, particularly in record-keeping by streamlining the records department and saving money," Smith wrote in an e-mail. "The clerk's office feels that the people of the state of Indiana have lost one of their best and brightest."

After a single term, Okeson returned to Baker & Daniels and became a partner practicing health-care law before returning to public service in 2005 for Gov. Mitch Daniels. He served as counsel to the Family and Social Services Administration. Okeson then worked as the governor's chief legislative counsel for almost two years during which he worked on issues such as a health insurance program for the working poor and the Indiana Toll Road lease.

In October 2007, Okeson returned to private practice with Hall Render Killian Heath & Lyman.

"John was an excellent lawyer with great experience in the public and private sectors, and his skill set fit well with what we do," said William Thompson with Hall Render. "He was such a joy to be around."

Despite his work in Indianapolis, though, Okeson continued living in Fort Wayne. Colleagues recalled how he'd drive back and forth repeatedly to be close to his three children.

In a statement released Wednesday, the governor said, "John Okeson taught and improved everyone around him, no more so than me. His wisdom, calmness under pressure, and the trust and good will he enjoyed on both sides of the aisle were things I'll always remember. But most of all, he was a father. All the 12- and 14-hour days he finished by driving north just to be with his kids in the morning - that's what I'll remember most."

Born Nov. 7, 1964, in Fort Wayne, he was a member of Trinity English Lutheran Church. Surviving are his son, Kale Okeson; daughters, Erin Okeson and Abbey Okeson; mother, Mary Elizabeth "Betty" Okeson; brothers, David J. (Kristie) Okeson and Paul S. (Michelle) Okeson; and former spouse, Ellen Okeson.

Visitation will be from 2 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. Friday at Trinity English Lutheran Church, 405 W. Wayne St., Fort Wayne; the funeral is 1 p.m. Saturday at the church. Memorial contributions may be made to Trinity English Lutheran Church or Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.

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  1. This is ridiculous. Most JDs not practicing law don't know squat to justify calling themselves a lawyer. Maybe they should try visiting the inside of a courtroom before they go around calling themselves lawyers. This kind of promotional BS just increases the volume of people with JDs that are underqualified thereby dragging all the rest of us down likewise.

  2. I think it is safe to say that those Hoosier's with the most confidence in the Indiana judicial system are those Hoosier's who have never had the displeasure of dealing with the Hoosier court system.

  3. I have an open CHINS case I failed a urine screen I have since got clean completed IOP classes now in after care passed home inspection my x sister in law has my children I still don't even have unsupervised when I have been clean for over 4 months my x sister wants to keep the lids for good n has my case working with her I just discovered n have proof that at one of my hearing dcs case worker stated in court to the judge that a screen was dirty which caused me not to have unsupervised this was at the beginning two weeks after my initial screen I thought the weed could have still been in my system was upset because they were suppose to check levels n see if it was going down since this was only a few weeks after initial instead they said dirty I recently requested all of my screens from redwood because I take prescriptions that will show up n I was having my doctor look at levels to verify that matched what I was prescripted because dcs case worker accused me of abuseing when I got my screens I found out that screen I took that dcs case worker stated in court to judge that caused me to not get granted unsupervised was actually negative what can I do about this this is a serious issue saying a parent failed a screen in court to judge when they didn't please advise

  4. I have a degree at law, recent MS in regulatory studies. Licensed in KS, admitted b4 S& 7th circuit, but not to Indiana bar due to political correctness. Blacklisted, nearly unemployable due to hostile state action. Big Idea: Headwinds can overcome, esp for those not within the contours of the bell curve, the Lego Movie happiness set forth above. That said, even without the blacklisting for holding ideas unacceptable to the Glorious State, I think the idea presented above that a law degree open many vistas other than being a galley slave to elitist lawyers is pretty much laughable. (Did the law professors of Indiana pay for this to be published?)

  5. Joe, you might want to do some reading on the fate of Hoosier whistleblowers before you get your expectations raised up.