When Indianapolis attorney Joe Hogsett received the news that he’d been tapped by President Barack Obama to be the
next U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Indiana, one of his first thoughts was that this could be the next home run
in his career.
That wasn’t because of anything he was doing in court or for a client, though. At the time he got the call about the nomination, the senior partner at Bingham McHale was walking out of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, where he was on vacation for his 12-year-old son’s weeklong baseball tournament.
“Walking out of the home of baseball when you get a call about the president giving you such an honor. … You can’t get any more American and patriotic than that,” the 53-year-old attorney told Indiana Lawyer within an hour of the White House announcement on July 14. “What a uniquely American experience, and I’m so extremely honored to be thought of for this.”
Limited in what he says publicly about the job prior to getting Senate approval, Hogsett said he’s looking forward
to the confirmation process and that it’s an honor to be chosen for such a critically important post, which hasn’t
had a presidentially appointed leader in almost three years.
The last confirmed leader was Susan Brooks, who left in October 2007 to take a general counsel and vice president spot at Ivy Tech Community College. Longtime second-in-command and previous interim leader Timothy Morrison took over that role temporarily until a new nominee could be found, and the gap that’s now lasted 33 months appears to be the longest on record.
For the Southern District, the U.S. Attorney manages a staff of about 80 people that includes roughly 30 lawyers. Morrison said the office in recent years typically handles an average 1,300 new civil cases and 1,300 pending ones, 350 new criminal cases and about the same number of pending ones, as well as about 2,000 active financial litigation cases that have collected about $20.1 million over the past three years.
Indiana Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh had recommended Hogsett, who’s been practicing since 1981 following his graduation that year from what is now the Indiana University Maurer School of Law – Bloomington. The Rushville native started his career in private practice at the only firm he’s ever been with, despite detours into the political arena as a stalwart Democrat and close friend and political ally to Bayh.
After law school, Hogsett started out as an associate at what was then Bingham Summers Welsh & Spilman and specialized in appellate procedure and federal employment law. But his public service passions took him to the Secretary of State’s office as a deputy in June 1987 under Bayh’s leadership. Once Bayh become governor, Hogsett took over that top spot and then won the election for a four-year term. In 1995, Hogsett became then-Gov. Bayh’s chief of staff and senior advisor until 1997. Though he made some unsuccessful bids for Congress during the 90s, Hogsett didn’t set his sights on political roles after working for Bayh and returned to Bingham, becoming partner in 2000.
Now he specializes in employment law and civil rights cases and handles individual employment contracts, non-compete agreements, sexual harassment and retaliation claims, and immigration compliance, as well as defending businesses on those issues in state and federal courts. He also assists the firm’s government department in advising Hoosier cities, towns, and counties on various issues.
During the past decade, he’s been through a significant merger that changed the name to Bingham McHale and has also kept up his political passions by serving from 2003 to 2004 as state chair of the Indiana Democratic Party. He’s also kept up his status as an avid runner, being a five-time competitor in the Boston Marathon and competing in the Indianapolis mini-marathon. He also has seized additional education at every possible chance to the point he now has four Master’s degrees – one in English from Butler University in 1987, in theological studies from Christian Theological Seminary in 1999, and in history from I.U. in 2007.
In praising Hogsett’s experience, intellect, and temperament overall, Bayh said his longtime political ally’s background in the legal community makes him qualified for the position. Specifically, the senator cited Hogsett’s first-chairing of many high-profile federal trials during his years as a practicing attorney, and his leadership as Secretary of State. In that job, Hogsett supervised multiple fraud prosecutions against unscrupulous stockbrokers and helped provide restitution to Hoosiers, and he also enforced Indiana’s lobbying laws and won accolades from public watchdog groups, according to Bayh’s office.
Those in the legal community who know Hogsett or have personally practiced alongside or in opposition of the employment lawyer say he’s a qualified, good choice for U.S. Attorney.
Attorney Ryan Fox at Haskin & LaRue in Indianapolis has worked with and against Hogsett, and said his colleague was always well prepared and both fierce and cordial in his advocacy when needed.
“Because he was always prepared and (had) knowledge of the legalese on each issue and the facts of the case, his advocacy was so much better,” Fox said. “That ultimately helps whoever he’s representing.”
Others echoed similar insights, including one of the highest-profile litigators in Indianapolis who was also being considered for this U.S. Attorney post last year before withdrawing her name in October. That lawyer is Linda Pence, a former Department of Justice attorney who’s been practicing for 36 years and recently left Taft Stettinius & Hollister to co-found the law firm Pence Hensel.
“I think he’ll make a tremendous U.S. Attorney and will be a perfect helmsman for that office,” Pence said of Hogsett, who is a fellow Democrat and in 2008 had chaired her unsuccessful campaign for state Attorney General. “He’s been a civil trial lawyer for a very long time, and is used to reviewing complicated and complex issues and coming out with sound reasoning. You need someone who’s very quick to grasp those broad types of issues, and he’s got the intellect and legal skills to do this.”
Former U.S. Attorney Brooks, now at Ivy Tech, said that Hogsett seems very qualified for the position that she held for six years as a Republican appointee. She’s known him for years through political circles and has never observed him in action as a practicing attorney, but she’s heard through fellow lawyers about his stellar reputation.
“Truly, you need to be a good manager to do a good job in this spot and he’s got that experience,” she said.
Brooks described the importance of this nomination, but she emphasized that it’s even more important to have the career attorneys, investigators, and administrative staff who make the office run. A newly confirmed leader may help pull resources and energize an office so that it meets the White House and administration’s vision, but those on the front lines carry the weight.
She reflected on her appointment, which came after a three-month nomination process that culminated about a month after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. That national tragedy came during President George W. Bush’s first year and hardly any presidential appointments had been made and confirmed at that time, she said.
“The worst incident in our country, maybe forever, and it was those career people who led the DOJ through that ordeal before the presidential people came in a month later and got more resources devoted to the work that was already happening,” she said
Now, Hogsett faces a confirmation process that requires U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee approval and confirmation by the full Senate. Spokesman Brian Weiss in Bayh’s office in Washington, D.C., said there isn’t a set timetable for when the Senate might take action. Some have generally speculated that the process might wrap up by year’s end, when Bayh leaves office after his decision to not seek re-election to the Senate.
If confirmed this year, Hogsett would be the state’s second new U.S. Attorney following the Senate’s approval in May for interim leader David Capp to take that position for the Northern District of Indiana, which had been vacant since Joseph Van Bokkelen’s confirmation for the federal bench in mid-2007.
Hogsett would be the 18th person to hold the Southern District post since it was created in 1928. Before that time, Indiana was one jurisdiction with a single attorney representing the state. The first U.S. Attorney for Indiana was named in 1813 while Indiana was still a territory.•