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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. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  2. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

  3. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

  4. Have been seeing this wonderful physician for a few years and was one of his patients who told him about what we were being told at CVS. Multiple ones. This was a witch hunt and they shold be ashamed of how patients were treated. Most of all, CVS should be ashamed for what they put this physician through. So thankful he fought back. His office is no "pill mill'. He does drug testing multiple times a year and sees patients a minimum of four times a year.

  5. Brian W, I fear I have not been sufficiently entertaining to bring you back. Here is a real laugh track that just might do it. When one is grabbed by the scruff of his worldview and made to choose between his Confession and his profession ... it is a not a hard choice, given the Confession affects eternity. But then comes the hardship in this world. Imagine how often I hear taunts like yours ... "what, you could not even pass character and fitness after they let you sit and pass their bar exam ... dude, there must really be something wrong with you!" Even one of the Bishop's foremost courtiers said that, when explaining why the RCC refused to stand with me. You want entertaining? How about watching your personal economy crash while you have a wife and five kids to clothe and feed. And you can't because you cannot work, because those demanding you cast off your Confession to be allowed into "their" profession have all the control. And you know that they are wrong, dead wrong, and that even the professional code itself allows your Faithful stand, to wit: "A lawyer may refuse to comply with an obligation imposed by law upon a good faith belief that no valid obligation exists. The provisions of Rule 1.2(d) concerning a good faith challenge to the validity, scope, meaning or application of the law apply to challenges of legal regulation of the practice of law." YET YOU ARE A NONPERSON before the BLE, and will not be heard on your rights or their duties to the law -- you are under tyranny, not law. And so they win in this world, you lose, and you lose even your belief in the rule of law, and demoralization joins poverty, and very troubling thoughts impeaching self worth rush in to fill the void where your career once lived. Thoughts you did not think possible. You find yourself a failure ... in your profession, in your support of your family, in the mirror. And there is little to keep hope alive, because tyranny rules so firmly and none, not the church, not the NGO's, none truly give a damn. Not even a new court, who pay such lip service to justice and ancient role models. You want entertainment? Well if you are on the side of the courtiers running the system that has crushed me, as I suspect you are, then Orwell must be a real riot: "There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always — do not forget this, Winston — always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever." I never thought they would win, I always thought that at the end of the day the rule of law would prevail. Yes, the rule of man's law. Instead power prevailed, so many rules broken by the system to break me. It took years, but, finally, the end that Dr Bowman predicted is upon me, the end that she advised the BLE to take to break me. Ironically, that is the one thing in her far left of center report that the BLE (after stamping, in red ink, on Jan 22) is uninterested in, as that the BLE and ADA office that used the federal statute as a sword now refuses to even dialogue on her dire prediction as to my fate. "C'est la vie" Entertaining enough for you, status quo defender?

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