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Zoeller: State’s lawyer has duty to represent state in marriage suit

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By Greg Zoeller

Recent federal court actions that first struck down Indiana’s statute limiting marriage to the traditional definition, and then stayed that order pending appeal, have left many in our state in legal limbo. As the attorney who represents state government and defends its laws, I know this difficult case stirs many people’s deeply held beliefs that touch their lives in very personal ways. Not since my office had to represent the state in lawsuits arising from the State Fair disaster has a dispute been so seemingly impossible to address in a way that the public would accept as being fair to all concerned.

Not to have requested a stay in Indiana’s same-sex marriage cases would have been a dereliction of duty to my state client given that the United States Supreme Court granted an identical stay Jan. 6 after Utah’s traditional marriage law was invalidated. The Supreme Court stayed implementation of a lower court’s order until it could consider cases working their way through the federal appeals pipeline. Other federal courts around the nation have uniformly followed that precedent of issuing stay orders in same-sex marriage lawsuits to avoid chaos at local courthouses.

In 2013, the Supreme Court declined to decide the question of state-level marriage statutes because the state of California and its attorney general did not defend California’s law. Instead, the court threw the question back to states, prompting more litigation that could last yet another year. Failing to defend Indiana’s law from this challenge is not an option available to me or the attorney general’s office. Though I don’t make state laws, I take seriously my obligation to defend the statutes the Legislature passes from challenges plaintiffs’ lawyers file, both in trial court and on appeal. We can’t abandon our state clients or fail to defend the statute, duties that some editorials have not grasped.

I respect opinions of constituents who disagree. From reading news accounts and social media, it is clear some view me as being on the “wrong side of history” or even bigoted, homophobic or uncaring. None of that is accurate, but being an elected official means being subjected to criticism that sometimes can be intense, accurate or not. The women and men who serve in the attorney general’s office and who have a duty to represent our state in court – whether the state prevails – are simply fulfilling their obligations as public servants.

As officers of the court, all lawyers must try to maintain the public’s respect for judges and the courts’ decisions. Attorneys on both sides of these cases are fulfilling oaths to represent opposing positions in court to the best of our ability. Our adversarial system of justice ensures both sides of a controversy are fully aired and that a decision is not made until both sides have had the opportunity to advocate their viewpoints zealously.

Regardless of how the U.S. Supreme Court eventually decides, I ask everyone to respect the judges, the decisions they render and the attorneys advocating for all parties involved. While courts do their work, Hoosiers on all sides of this contentious issue ought to show civility and respect toward each other and toward the judicial process.•

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Greg Zoeller is attorney general of Indiana. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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  1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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