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Elkhart remembers two longtime attorneys

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Attorneys in northern Indiana are remembering two in the legal profession who died within a day of each other, including a longtime public defender who many say was one of the best in the state.
 

zook-brent-mug Zook

Robert Brent Zook, 59, of Goshen died Dec. 30 after suffering from cancer for 14 months. The 1974 graduate of Indiana University Maurer School of Law began practicing that year in the Elkhart County Public Defender’s Office, earning respect and admiration from the local and state legal community.

Those who worked with Zook through the years say he handled cases of all sizes and had a love and curiosity for the law. He also developed a keen interest in death penalty cases during his career as a public defender. Many describe him as a patient, non-judgmental lawyer who maintained that persona both inside and outside the courtroom, even in the most difficult of circumstances.

Born with cystic fibrosis on Christmas Eve 1951, Zook overwhelmingly exceeded the six-month life expectancy at that time for someone with the disease, as well as the current 37-year life expectancy, and his legal community colleagues say he never used his health as an excuse. He had a double lung transplant in 1996, and Elkhart Circuit Judge Terry Shewmaker – who was a deputy prosecutor at the time – recalls how Zook went to the hospital at night during one trial and then checked himself out to be in court each morning.

The Indiana Public Defender Council in 1999 honored Zook with the Gideon Award, the highest honor a public defender can receive in the state.

“He was a special man and lawyer,” said Don Murphy with the Indiana Public Defender Council. “He beat the odds all of his life, for surviving cystic fibrosis and for effectively representing poor people charged with crimes.”

Zook is survived by his wife, Susan, as well as several step-children and a foster sister. Memorial contributions can be made to the Goshen Amateur Radio Club, of which he was a member.

Though Zook’s death hit the public defender’s office hard, a second death one day later left the Elkhart legal community without another admired attorney. James D. Stevens, 67, died Dec. 31 from pancreatic cancer.

Earning a juris doctor from the University of West Los Angeles, Stevens began practicing in Elkhart in 1977 and had served in the public defender’s office and handled pro bono civil rights cases, including the representation of developmentally disabled individuals. Stevens is survived by his wife, Laura, and their daughters, step-daughters, grandchildren, sisters, and several nieces and nephews.•

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  1. Thank you, John Smith, for pointing out a needed correction. The article has been revised.

  2. The "National institute for Justice" is an agency for the Dept of Justice. That is not the law firm you are talking about in this article. The "institute for justice" is a public interest law firm. http://ij.org/ thanks for interesting article however

  3. I would like to try to find a lawyer as soon possible I've had my money stolen off of my bank card driver pressed charges and I try to get the information they need it and a Social Security board is just give me a hold up a run around for no reason and now it think it might be too late cuz its been over a year I believe and I can't get the right information they need because they keep giving me the runaroundwhat should I do about that

  4. It is wonderful that Indiana DOC is making some truly admirable and positive changes. People with serious mental illness, intellectual disability or developmental disability will benefit from these changes. It will be much better if people can get some help and resources that promote their health and growth than if they suffer alone. If people experience positive growth or healing of their health issues, they may be less likely to do the things that caused them to come to prison in the first place. This will be of benefit for everyone. I am also so happy that Indiana DOC added correctional personnel and mental health staffing. These are tough issues to work with. There should be adequate staffing in prisons so correctional officers and other staff are able to do the kind of work they really want to do-helping people grow and change-rather than just trying to manage chaos. Correctional officers and other staff deserve this. It would be great to see increased mental health services and services for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities in the community so that fewer people will have to receive help and support in prisons. Community services would like be less expensive, inherently less demeaning and just a whole lot better for everyone.

  5. Can I get this form on line,if not where can I obtain one. I am eligible.

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