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. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  2. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  3. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.

  4. rensselaer imdiana is doing same thing to children from the judge to attorney and dfs staff they need to be investigated as well

  5. Sex offenders are victims twice, once when they are molested as kids, and again when they repeat the behavior, you never see money spent on helping them do you. That's why this circle continues