Lawyers venturing into politics is not a new concept.
But how much influence do those office-seeking or campaign-supporting attorneys and judges have on the political process, and does it really matter if people have a law degree as part of their background?
Current political campaigns involve well-known and highly respected members of the legal community who are flexing their influence, both vying for votes personally and working to have others elected.
Lawyers and judges often say their professional backgrounds prepare them to problem-solve and think on their feet, and their legal minds help them find solutions to questions often confronted in the political arena. The involvement of lawyers or judges can send a message to members of the legal community who might be voting or trying to analyze a particular political race.
“It’s one thing to have such well-respected people running for office, that’s just their qualifications and you may agree or disagree,” said Indianapolis attorney Bob Hammerle, an active political participant who’s been involved in state, federal, and presidential politics on the Democratic side for years, including hosting rallies at his home. “When you have people with such gravitas involved and campaigning, that lends their credibility to someone who stands out in their own right. That does make a difference to us.”
One of the most recent members of the legal profession to throw her hat into the political ring is current Ivy Tech Community College general counsel and former U.S. attorney for the Southern District Susan W. Brooks. Brooks has announced her entry into the 5th U.S. Congressional District race as a Republican candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives. She’ll face incumbent Dan Burton next year as well as John McGoff, a doctor who has twice ran unsuccessfully against Burton.
Brooks has been with Ivy Tech since September 2007 and at one time oversaw the school’s statewide workforce development strategies. She became general counsel after serving as the Southern District’s top federal prosecutor from 2001 to 2007.
In the late 1990s, Brooks served as deputy mayor of Indianapolis before moving to the government services practice at law firm Ice Miller. The Fort Wayne native began her law career as a criminal defense attorney in both state and federal courts after graduating from Indiana University School of Law – Indianapolis.
Her campaign has some high-profile names attached. The campaign is co-chaired by retired U.S. Magistrate Judge V. Sue Shields, a respected and recognized state appellate and Hamilton County judge, and attorney Murray Clark, a former state senator who most recently chaired the Indiana GOP.
“Susan is the right candidate for Congress at just the right time,” Magistrate Judge Shields said. “She has spent her entire career as a relentless advocate on behalf of Hoosiers in all walks of life, and she will be a strong representative for residents in the 5th Congressional District.”
That Central Indiana political race presents a similar attorney-involvement scenario as a contest in northwest Indiana. Chicago attorney and former Indiana state representative Dan Dumezich from Schererville is active in the campaign for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Indianapolis attorney Bob Grand at Barnes & Thornburg and Dumezich are co-chairing the Romney campaign in this state and in late July held a fundraiser at Dumezich’s home. Minimum $1,000 contributions were required, according to news coverage.
Both attorneys’ names have been associated with politics for years, and Dumezich has been mentioned as a possible contender for Congress or U.S. Senate.
Grand said he sees the representation of lawyers involved in politics higher than many other professions, and it’s important for the legal community to be a part of that process.
“Naturally, you have more lawyers who are politically active just because of what we do in the process of interpreting and applying laws,” Grand said. “I’m not sure if our involvement means anything more to the process or has any more weight ... that might just depend on who the lawyer or judge is. But I know personally, I’ve found it intriguing to be a part of the government process like this to help shape public policy.”
In Indianapolis, attorney Melina Kennedy left law firm Baker & Daniels late last year to kick off her mayoral campaign against first-term incumbent Greg Ballard. If elected, she will return to the office where she began her career as deputy mayor after law school. She said her legal background complements her public service passion perfectly, and she feels it is time to use it for that.
“I see how much good you can do in city government, and as I’ve had the opportunity to look at ways of getting back into that service. I thought this was a good time for doing that,” Kennedy said. She believes it is important for law students and lawyers to be involved in public service efforts, whether that means running for office or working behind the scenes.
“Our legal community is just one segment of a bigger political community that everyone’s a part of,” she said. “Studying the law, you can see why so many attorneys are involved – it’s because we have a true understanding of the process, and that means we need to have more involvement.”•