Justice-turned-mediator: ADR does work

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When he was a member of the state’s highest court, former Justice Ted Boehm recalls reading a fair amount about alternative dispute resolution and even crafting rules about the topic.

But since leaving the appellate bench in September, he is seeing the modern ADR system for the first time from the trenches.

boehm After retiring from the Indiana Supreme Court last fall, former Justice Ted Boehm started working with Indianapolis-based Van Winkle Baten Dispute Resolution and is seeing the alternative dispute world up close and personal. (IBJ Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

His verdict: It truly does work.

That is a common theme among jurists-turned-mediators, who may not have been able to personally witness the ADR benefits and only heard stories told by others about how effective an option it can be. Many say they are in some ways constrained by their robes from actually talking to parties and finding mutually beneficial resolutions. Boehm may be unique in moving from the state’s highest appellate bench to the ADR world, but he echoes what others have said when making the move.

“Before now, I’d had an Olympian view of mediation,” Boehm said, referring to his 14 years on the Indiana Supreme Court. “Not too many former judges are doing this, but I’m a little of an unusual character being the only former justice. As an appellate judge, I read a fair amount about it and helped create some rules but never

witnessed it on the ground level and didn’t know what it was truly like. I’m really surprised at how well it really does work.”

The first months with Indianapolis ADR firm Van Winkle Baten Dispute Resolution haven’t presented any new substantive challenges. The issues he is addressing are much like those he handled both as a practicing attorney and saw from the judge’s perspective. Boehm began his legal career at Baker & Daniels in the 1960s before taking on corporate counsel roles at General Electric and Eli Lilly in the late 1980s to 1995. Those jobs gave him the chance to participate in negotiated settlements of many large complex business disputes on acquisitions, dispositions, real estate transactions, and commercial agreements.

All of that combined with his court experience set the stage for what he’s doing now. The use of ADR really exploded during the time he was on the bench, so this is his first practical experience participating since that boom happened, he said.

Devoting about a third of his time to mediation work, Boehm said he just recently started handling his first arbitrations and most of his cases at this point have been focused on business, contractual, or regulatory scheme issues between shareholders, corporations, or employees. He hasn’t had a personal injury or domestic relations case, which are the most high-volume type, he said.

“I’m really enjoying the mediation so far and like that it’s something I can do on my own schedule,” he said, noting that his calendar has at least one mediation or arbitration per week. “The issues aren’t really different, so it’s really just the ADR aspect that I haven’t experienced before. My biggest surprise has been how unsurprising it’s been so far. But I am really interested to see firsthand how well it works.”

Boehm is keeping busy, balancing his time between the dispute resolution firm and other work such as senior judging for the Indiana Court of Appeals. He’s also been spending much time handling a high-profile trustee role in the estate of the late Mel Simon, who died in 2009 and whose family is battling in court over how the former mall owner’s estate will be split. Boehm is also staying involved in civic activities and the legal community, such as chairing an Indianapolis Bar Association political action committee focused on changing how judicial candidates receive campaign donations.

“I’m trying to keep my hand in the civic and legal communities as much as I can give back,” he said.

That schedule flexibility and ability to apply past experience to something new is one of the reasons other judge-turned-mediators agree ADR is an attractive professional option.

Kim Van Valer left the Johnson Superior bench in 2009 to return to her family firm in Greenwood where she is helping to run the office and has created an ADR focus.

“As a judge in my second term, I started seeing that there was so much good I could do if I could just step around that big bench and sit at a table to talk with these people,” she said. “I loved being on the bench, but it can be frustrating that you aren’t able to just talk casually with people about what options might exist. In court, you’re trying to win rather than agree on something.”

Though her ADR emphasis at the firm took off slowly, she said it has started to pick up and she is seeing cases from not only lawyer or judicial referrals but unexpected places like church counselors and therapists. She works as a mediator to avoid the “shuttle mediation” method between rooms. Though she’s running for a part-time position on the Franklin City Court, Van Valer said she’s eager to continue mediation work at the law firm. She also serves as a senior judge statewide and is on the ADR Committee for the Judicial Conference of Indiana.

“If we expect our courts to function as problem-solving centers, we need to send only those cases in which resolutions are impossible between the parties themselves,” she said.

Former Shelby Superior Judge Russell Sanders, who retired at the end of 2010, has entered the ADR world as a member of The Mediation Group in Carmel. He’s one of two former judges there.

Sanders said his judicial experience gives him a better feel for evaluating cases – he knows how he might approach a case as a litigator or how he would view it if it came before him on the bench – and helps him to craft a mutually beneficial resolution. He uses the perspectives of both as a neutral party.

“This was just too good an opportunity to pass up, getting to stand on the third leg of the system,” the former judge said, referencing his 20 years as a practicing attorney and 14 years on the bench. “They’re all complementary and a part of what this practice of law is all about – resolving disputes for people. That’s why we got into this profession in the first place.”•


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  1. Especially I would like to see all the republican voting patriotic good ole boys to stop and understand that the wars they have been volunteering for all along (especially the past decade at least) have not been for God & Jesus etc no far from it unless you think George Washington's face on the US dollar is god (and we know many do). When I saw the movie about Chris Kyle, I thought wow how many Hoosiers are just like this guy, out there taking orders to do the nasty on the designated bad guys, sometimes bleeding and dying, sometimes just serving and coming home to defend a system that really just views them as reliable cannon fodder. Maybe if the Christians of the red states would stop volunteering for the imperial legions and begin collecting welfare instead of working their butts off, there would be a change in attitude from the haughty professorial overlords that tell us when democracy is allowed and when it isn't. To come home from guarding the borders of the sandbox just to hear if they want the government to protect this country's borders then they are racists and bigots. Well maybe the professorial overlords should gird their own loins for war and fight their own battles in the sandbox. We can see what kind of system this really is from lawsuits like this and we can understand who it really serves. NOT US.... I mean what are all you Hoosiers waving the flag for, the right of the president to start wars of aggression to benefit the Saudis, the right of gay marriage, the right for illegal immigrants to invade our country, and the right of the ACLU to sue over displays of Baby Jesus? The right of the 1 percenters to get richer, the right of zombie banks to use taxpayer money to stay out of bankruptcy? The right of Congress to start a pissing match that could end in WWIII in Ukraine? None of that crud benefits us. We should be like the Amish. You don't have to go far from this farcical lawsuit to find the wise ones, they're in the buggies in the streets not far away....

  2. Moreover, we all know that the well heeled ACLU has a litigation strategy of outspending their adversaries. And, with the help of the legal system well trained in secularism, on top of the genuinely and admittedly secular 1st amendment, they have the strategic high ground. Maybe Christians should begin like the Amish to withdraw their services from the state and the public and become themselves a "people who shall dwell alone" and foster their own kind and let the other individuals and money interests fight it out endlessly in court. I mean, if "the people" don't see how little the state serves their interests, putting Mammon first at nearly every turn, then maybe it is time they wake up and smell the coffee. Maybe all the displays of religiosity by American poohbahs on down the decades have been a mask of piety that concealed their own materialistic inclinations. I know a lot of patriotic Christians don't like that notion but I entertain it more and more all the time.

  3. If I were a judge (and I am not just a humble citizen) I would be inclined to make a finding that there was no real controversy and dismiss them. Do we allow a lawsuit every time someone's feelings are hurt now? It's preposterous. The 1st amendment has become a sword in the hands of those who actually want to suppress religious liberty according to their own backers' conception of how it will serve their own private interests. The state has a duty of impartiality to all citizens to spend its judicial resources wisely and flush these idiotic suits over Nativity Scenes down the toilet where they belong... however as Christians we should welcome them as they are the very sort of persecution that separates the sheep from the wolves.

  4. What about the single mothers trying to protect their children from mentally abusive grandparents who hide who they truly are behind mounds and years of medication and have mentally abused their own children to the point of one being in jail and the other was on drugs. What about trying to keep those children from being subjected to the same abuse they were as a child? I can understand in the instance about the parent losing their right and the grandparent having raised the child previously! But not all circumstances grant this being OKAY! some of us parents are trying to protect our children and yes it is our God given right to make those decisions for our children as adults!! This is not just black and white and I will fight every ounce of this to get denied

  5. Mr Smith the theory of Christian persecution in Indiana has been run by the Indiana Supreme Court and soundly rejected there is no such thing according to those who rule over us. it is a thought crime to think otherwise.