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Civil rights lawyer worked on suit to desegregate school system

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The Indianapolis lawyer who worked on several notable cases in Indianapolis history, including a lawsuit which led to the desegregation of Indianapolis Public Schools, died Dec. 26, 2010.

John Moss Jr., 74, was born in Alabama and grew up during a time in which he witnessed racism as well as several important civil rights cases. His son, John Moss III, said his father decided to become a lawyer at a young age after witnessing police beat a town drunk.
 

moss Moss Jr.

“Like a lot of African-Americans in his generation growing up in the South, he had lots of reasons to be motivated to pursue a career that was working for justice,” said his son Sean Moss. “He shared with my brothers and I the challenges he had growing up in the segregated South in Alabama.”

Sean said his father was told many times by people in authority in that environment that he would not amount to anything and that he should just be happy to work at some place like the post office.

After graduating from Dillard University in New Orleans, Moss moved to Indianapolis to attend law school at the encouragement of Dr. Joseph T. Taylor, a sociology professor and the first dean of the School of Liberal Arts at Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis. After graduating from Indiana University School of Law-Indianapolis in 1961, he taught at what is now Florida State School of Law for a year before moving back to Indianapolis.

He practiced from 1962 until 2005, focusing on discrimination and civil rights law. He formed a collaboration with Mercer Mance and Charles Walton, Mance Moss & Walton, and also practiced as a solo. Two of his sons, John III and Marc Moss, practiced with their father at some point in their careers. John III practiced with him for six years.

John III said his father’s biggest impact was being an advocate for African-Americans, whether it was employment, school issues, or a criminal law case.

“His whole law practice was to help people,” John III said, noting it was never about the money for his father.

Moss filed the class-action lawsuit in 1968 against IPS on behalf of all African-American students to desegregate the schools, which led to the ordering of IPS students to be bused within the district, and eventually to Marion County township schools, to achieve racial balance.

Moss also worked on a class-action lawsuit against Colgate Palmolive Corp. on behalf of all female employees of the company, which led to permanently increasing the salaries of those women and changed how Colgate paid its female employees. Moss also filed a wrongful-death claim on behalf of Michael Taylor’s family in 1989. Two years earlier, Taylor, a teen in custody of the Indianapolis Police Department, was found dead in the back of a police car with a gunshot wound to his head and his hands handcuffed behind his head. IPD argued he shot himself. An all-white jury in Hancock County in 1996 awarded the Taylor family more than $3.5 million, which at the time was the largest judgment awarded against a municipality in Indiana history.

U.S. District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt recalled practicing with and learning from Moss in her first years as a lawyer. He was, she said, a mentor to many.

“I don’t know if Mr. Moss realized the impact that his wisdom, strength, and character had on me and many other lawyers in the Indianapolis legal community,” Judge Pratt said. “He was a champion of civil rights and often preached that in respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law; he truly believed that the humblest and powerless are the peers of the most powerful. He was never afraid to take on the giants on behalf of the little man or woman – that class of people who are often forgotten and those who were the victims of injustice. John Moss leaves behind a legacy that will not be forgotten.”

His son Marc, who worked with his father on some cases, described his father as a trailblazer who created opportunities for lawyers that he didn’t have. He said his father operated his practice with integrity and he became known as a guy who wasn’t going to back down or be intimidated.

Marc said at a young age it became clear to him that people knew who his dad was because of the manner in which he practiced law.

“It’s ironic that when you aren’t concerned about yourself, you’re exalted. People remember you,” he said. “It wasn’t because he made a lot of money or he worked at some big fancy firm. It was because he made a difference. People knew him as a fighter. That was the special thing about him.”

Outside of the law, Moss was active in his church and coached football for about 25 years at an Indianapolis football program, Tabernacle Recreation Program.

Survivors include his wife June; sons Sean, John III, and Marc; and five grandchildren. •

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  • Uncle John
    In as much as John Moss's Legacy in the Legal World speaks for itself, John Moss the brother, son, father, husband, friend etc.,most of all Uncle. My experence began in south central Los Angeles, where a 5 or 6 year old boy met an uncle he had never met in person, only by mail. You see it was my birthday and my first letter from the mail. Every year for the next 12 years in mid October that letter came, weather John was emershed in a major civil rights case, raising his own children or doing something that would have world wide implacations, the birthday card came. Might seem like a small thing, however, it was the small things not forgotten that made Uncle John a role Model for me! RIP Uncle John.

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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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