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Attorney, ex-appellate clerk dies suddenly

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2008
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A Fort Wayne and Indianapolis health-care law attorney who'd previously served as the governor's counsel and as state appellate clerk in the 1990s died suddenly Tuesday night.

John Okeson, 43, died at Lutheran Hospital in Fort Wayne after suffering from a short flu-like illness during the past week; he was admitted to the hospital late Sunday or Monday, according to his legal colleagues. The county coroner's office told media that Okeson had been sick and admitted to the hospital, where staff determined he had a serious sepsis-like condition of unknown origin.

His legal colleagues say the news shocked them particularly because Okeson was known as one of the healthiest people around, running regularly and competing in triathlons and swimming.

The Fort Wayne native graduated from Indiana University School of Law - Indianapolis in 1989, going to work as an associate at the Fort Wayne office of Baker & Daniels. He later left to successfully run for the statewide position of clerk of the appellate courts, which at the time was an elected position.

Current Appellate Clerk Kevin Smith said he didn't know Okeson well, but his staff pointed out that Okeson restored dignity to the office in the 1990s, uplifted morale, and gave the public the ability to trust and have confidence in the clerk's office.

"My employees saw John as a forward-thinking man, studying the functions ... and making improvements, particularly in record-keeping by streamlining the records department and saving money," Smith wrote in an e-mail. "The clerk's office feels that the people of the state of Indiana have lost one of their best and brightest."

After a single term, Okeson returned to Baker & Daniels and became a partner practicing health-care law before returning to public service in 2005 for Gov. Mitch Daniels. He served as counsel to the Family and Social Services Administration. Okeson then worked as the governor's chief legislative counsel for almost two years during which he worked on issues such as a health insurance program for the working poor and the Indiana Toll Road lease.

In October 2007, Okeson returned to private practice with Hall Render Killian Heath & Lyman.

"John was an excellent lawyer with great experience in the public and private sectors, and his skill set fit well with what we do," said William Thompson with Hall Render. "He was such a joy to be around."

Despite his work in Indianapolis, though, Okeson continued living in Fort Wayne. Colleagues recalled how he'd drive back and forth repeatedly to be close to his three children.

In a statement released Wednesday, the governor said, "John Okeson taught and improved everyone around him, no more so than me. His wisdom, calmness under pressure, and the trust and good will he enjoyed on both sides of the aisle were things I'll always remember. But most of all, he was a father. All the 12- and 14-hour days he finished by driving north just to be with his kids in the morning - that's what I'll remember most."

Born Nov. 7, 1964, in Fort Wayne, he was a member of Trinity English Lutheran Church. Surviving are his son, Kale Okeson; daughters, Erin Okeson and Abbey Okeson; mother, Mary Elizabeth "Betty" Okeson; brothers, David J. (Kristie) Okeson and Paul S. (Michelle) Okeson; and former spouse, Ellen Okeson.

Visitation will be from 2 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. Friday at Trinity English Lutheran Church, 405 W. Wayne St., Fort Wayne; the funeral is 1 p.m. Saturday at the church. Memorial contributions may be made to Trinity English Lutheran Church or Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.
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  1. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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