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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. If real money was spent on this study, what a shame. And if some air-head professor tries to use this to advance a career, pity the poor student. I am approaching a time that i (and others around me) should be vigilant. I don't think I'm anywhere near there yet, but seeing the subject I was looking forward to something I might use to look for some benchmarks. When finally finding my way to the hidden questionnaire all I could say to myself was...what a joke. Those are open and obvious signs of any impaired lawyer (or non-lawyer, for that matter), And if one needs a checklist to discern those tell-tale signs of impairment at any age, one shouldn't be practicing law. Another reason I don't regret dropping my ABA membership some number of years ago.

  2. The case should have been spiked. Give the kid a break. He can serve and maybe die for Uncle Sam and can't have a drink? Wow. And they won't even let him defend himself. What a gross lack of prosecutorial oversight and judgment. WOW

  3. I work with some older lawyers in the 70s, 80s, and they are sharp as tacks compared to the foggy minded, undisciplined, inexperienced, listless & aimless "youths" being churned out by the diploma mill law schools by the tens of thousands. A client is generally lucky to land a lawyer who has decided to stay in practice a long time. Young people shouldn't kid themselves. Experience is golden especially in something like law. When you start out as a new lawyer you are about as powerful as a babe in the cradle. Whereas the silver halo of age usually crowns someone who can strike like thunder.

  4. YES I WENT THROUGH THIS BEFORE IN A DIFFERENT SITUATION WITH MY YOUNGEST SON PEOPLE NEED TO LEAVE US ALONE WITH DCS IF WE ARE NOT HURTING OR NEGLECT OUR CHILDREN WHY ARE THEY EVEN CALLED OUT AND THE PEOPLE MAKING FALSE REPORTS NEED TO GO TO JAIL AND HAVE A CLASS D FELONY ON THERE RECORD TO SEE HOW IT FEELS. I WENT THREW ALOT WHEN HE WAS TAKEN WHAT ELSE DOES THESE SCHOOL WANT ME TO SERVE 25 YEARS TO LIFE ON LIES THERE TELLING OR EVEN LE SAME THING LIED TO THE COUNTY PROSECUTOR JUST SO I WOULD GET ARRESTED AND GET TIME HE THOUGHT AND IT TURNED OUT I DID WHAT I HAD TO DO NOT PROUD OF WHAT HAPPEN AND SHOULD KNOW ABOUT SEEKING MEDICAL ATTENTION FOR MY CHILD I AM DISABLED AND SICK OF GETTING TREATED BADLY HOW WOULD THEY LIKE IT IF I CALLED APS ON THEM FOR A CHANGE THEN THEY CAN COME AND ARREST THEM RIGHT OUT OF THE SCHOOL. NOW WE ARE HOMELESS AND THE CHILDREN ARE STAYING WITH A RELATIVE AND GUARDIAN AND THE SCHOOL WON'T LET THEM GO TO SCHOOL THERE BUT WANT THEM TO GO TO SCHOOL WHERE BULLYING IS ALLOWED REAL SMART THINKING ON A SCHOOL STAFF.

  5. Family court judges never fail to surprise me with their irrational thinking. First of all any man who abuses his wife is not fit to be a parent. A man who can't control his anger should not be allowed around his child unsupervised period. Just because he's never been convicted of abusing his child doesn't mean he won't and maybe he hasn't but a man that has such poor judgement and control is not fit to parent without oversight - only a moron would think otherwise. Secondly, why should the mother have to pay? He's the one who made the poor decisions to abuse and he should be the one to pay the price - monetarily and otherwise. Yes it's sad that the little girl may be deprived of her father, but really what kind of father is he - the one that abuses her mother the one that can't even step up and do what's necessary on his own instead the abused mother is to pay for him???? What is this Judge thinking? Another example of how this world rewards bad behavior and punishes those who do right. Way to go Judge - NOT.

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