The Hon. Robert H. Staton achieved many professional milestones in his lengthy career. But after his death on July 18, what people seemed to remember most about him was his enduring positive influence in their lives.
Judge Staton served on the Indiana Court of Appeals for nearly 30 years before retiring in 2000. In that time, he helped shape the careers of the many men and women who clerked for him. Judy Vale Newton was one of those people.
“Judge Staton hired his clerks with an eye toward establishing a companionable work environment ... and, indeed, it was,” Newton wrote in an email to Indiana Lawyer. “We law clerks became good friends. Often the judge would call all of us into his office just to talk. Kids, travel, problems, our futures ... he was interested in it all.”
Newton, of the Indianapolis firm Newton Becker Bouwkamp Pendoski, clerked for Judge Staton from 1979 to 1981. She said the judge was “truly a man before his time” in regard to his understanding of family obligations. Judge Staton told her that as long as she kept her production up, during the summer she could work from home several days a week in order to spend time with her two young children.
Linda Hammel, of the Indianapolis firm Yarling & Robinson, clerked for Judge Staton from 1972 to 1976.
“At the time I was his law clerk, I was the only female law clerk on the Court of Appeals,” she said, adding that she met her future husband while clerking.
“Judge Staton married us. We were his first wedding – he was so nervous,” she recalled. “We stayed close over the years, because he was such a big part of starting my career and my family.”
In 2005, a group of Judge Staton’s former clerks launched a fundraising campaign with the goal of naming the moot court competition at the Indiana University School of Law – Indianapolis, Judge Staton’s alma mater, in his honor. Leading this effort was attorney Tom Hall of the South Bend Firm Tuesley Hall Konopa, also one of Judge Staton’s former clerks.
“He was a mentor to all of us clerks – he respected us, respected our abilities, and made us better people,” Hall said. “He just did so much for our profession that I felt it very important to recognize him while he was still here.”
Hall, with the help of Hammel and former clerks John Ittenbach and Kevin Knight, reached out to other past clerks, appeals court judges, and friends of Judge Staton, and created an endowed account to allow The Honorable Robert H. Staton Intramural Court Competition to continue in perpetuity.
IU School of Law – Indianapolis Dean Gary Roberts said that in 2007, Judge Staton established a fund to support the Honorable Robert H. Staton Best Brief Scholarship, awarded to a student in the legal analysis, research, and communication class who has written the best brief.
“We were deeply saddened to learn of Judge Staton’s passing,” Roberts said. “He was a great friend of the law school, having served on our alumni board for many years. Not only was he a past president of the board and a past recipient of our Distinguished Alumni Award, he cared deeply about our students.”
Judge Staton wrote, “The History of Mandatory Continuing Legal Education in Indiana,” featured in the Valparaiso University Law Review in 2006. In that article, he wrote that Indiana State Bar Association president Thomas Scanlon “chose a young, inexperienced lawyer” (Staton) to lead a team in creating a glossy new publication for the ISBA. Under Staton’s leadership, the team published the first edition of Res Gestae in November of 1956, with Staton becoming its first editor.
Judge Staton was also chairman of a task force in 1984 that researched mandatory continuing legal education in 17 other states. The group put together a recommendation that Indiana adopt mandatory CLE requirements, presenting its research for the 1985 spring meeting of the ISBA. The House of Delegates approved the rule as submitted by the task force. Later, the Indiana Supreme Court adopted Rule 29, which calls for mandatory CLE, and the rule became effective on Oct. 1, 1986. Judge Staton became the first chairman of the Indiana Commission for Continuing Legal Education, making Indiana the 18th state to adopt such requirements.
Judge Staton was president of the law school’s alumni association and served on its board of directors from 2004 to 2007. He served on the executive council for IU, representing the law school.
The judge was a prolific writer – he wrote more than 3,000 majority opinions during his time on the appeals court, and he was known for his historical accounts of Indiana’s legal system.
“He was a student of the history of the law, so often you would find in the footnotes in his opinions an explanation of how the law came about … even back to Roman times,” Hammel said.
He also received the title of “life honorary editor” of the Indiana Law Review.
Judge Staton served in World War II with the 91st Infantry Division of the 5th Army and was attached to the 801 Special Combat Force, which specialized in reconnaissance work behind enemy lines. He achieved the rank of major and was awarded numerous medals, including a Silver Star, two Bronze Stars, and the Distinguished Flying Cross.
After earning his law degree in 1955, he became a deputy prosecuting attorney in Marion County, eventually becoming chief trial deputy prosecutor. He then entered private practice, founding the firm of Staton & Ward.
John Ittenbach became the judge’s first clerk after Judge Staton was elected to the Indiana Court of Appeals in 1970, the last appellate court election before merit-selection began in 1971.
“Being able to finish the last two years of law school while clerking for him was probably the best thing that ever happened to me,” Ittenbach said. In addition to learning about writing persuasively and analytical thinking, Ittenbach, of the firm Ittenbach Johnson Trettin & Koeller, said he learned about the importance of character in the legal profession.
“In my opinion he was a gentleman lawyer – he never said anything disparaging about anybody else,” Ittenbach said. “I consider him a mentor and a model for how lawyers should be. I’ve been practicing law for 37 years now, and I would still go to him for advice occasionally.”
The judge taught his clerks not only how to practice law, Ittebach said, but how to appreciate it.
Judge Staton, who was 86, was preceded in death by his wife, Jane Ellen (Cox) Staton. He is survived by his two daughters who are also attorneys, Jennifer Staton Stoesz (Steven), of Carmel; and Elizabeth Staton Idleman (Scott), of Milwaukee. He has four grandchildren.
Memorial contributions may be made to The Honorable Robert H. Staton Intramural Moot Court Competition at IU School of Law – Indianapolis c/o IU Foundation Showalter House, P.O. Box 500, Bloomington, Ind., 47402; or Carmel Clay Public Library Foundation, 55 4th Ave. S.E., Carmel, Ind., 46032. Funeral services were July 25 at Second Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis.•