Evansville Bar Association to celebrate 100th anniversary

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In 1871, Ben Sawyer was executed in a jail courtyard, after being tried and convicted for the murder of his wife. Sawyer was the second – and last – criminal to be publicly executed in Vanderburgh County. Sawyer’s story is one of many that historian Bill Bartelt uncovered while researching the history of Vanderburgh County law for the Evansville Bar Association.

Randall Shepard Shepard

The EBA commissioned Bartelt to research the county’s legal history for several projects that will be unveiled at the bar association’s 100th anniversary celebration later this month. The two-day event will kickoff at 8 a.m. April 28, when more than 250 students from Evansville-area high schools will participate in “mock trial” day. Since 1933, the EBA has scheduled this day for students to act as attorneys, witnesses, and juries. Real judges and magistrates sit on the bench for the mock trials.

eba At its anniversary celebration, the Evansville Bar Association will reveal to the public the Randall T. Shepard courtroom, shown here during remodeling. The Old Courthouse Foundation worked with the architect during renovation to ensure historic accuracy. (Submitted photo)

The mock trial day was where current Indiana Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard first played the role of attorney.

“I would have done this, I think, in the winter or spring of 1965. That seems like a hundred years ago,” Chief Justice Shepard said. “As I remember, the case involved a chicken farmer arrested and charged with drunk driving.”

Shepard remembers losing that case to Charles Berger, who also went on to become an attorney and has a practice in Evansville.

Then 18, Shepard hadn’t decided what career he wanted to pursue, but he had considered law as a vocation. He said the mock trial was “certainly a factor” in his decision to become a lawyer.

On April 29, Shepard will make remarks at an evening reception at the Old Vanderburgh County Courthouse. The EBA will debut the remodeled Superior courtroom, which has been renamed the Randall T. Shepard Courtroom.

Dan Carwile Carwile

“I learned the most important skills and values of law from Evansville lawyers in the course of being a part of that legal community,” Shepard said. “Although I have been away for a long time, I still treasure what those lawyers and judges taught me. So the thoughtfulness (of naming the courtroom in his honor) is very heartwarming.”

Adjacent to the courtroom is the new Vanderburgh County Legal History Center, which will feature an 18-foot-tall timeline Bartelt created that begins in 1818. Video kiosks will air segments produced by students in Reitz High School’s “Feel the History” course.

Indiana Lawyer Online EXTRA
For a timeline on the history of the Evansville Bar Association, click here.

The EBA met last year with Reitz teacher Jeremy Villines and Feel the History course co-creators Jon Carl and Jerry Hughes to discuss the student video project. Hughes said the bar association asked if the class could produce historical videos for its 100th anniversary, remembering that the class had previously filmed a segment about the old courthouse. (That segment can be viewed on the Feel the History website:

Bartelt provided the preliminary background material for the student videos. “But the kids took it further,” Hughes said, by conducting additional research on the topics they chose for the videos.

vollmer Vollmer

For one video, students chose subject Leslie “Mad Dog” Irvin, a man who was sentenced to death for killing six people in the tri-state area in the 1950s. The U.S. Supreme Court later overturned Irvin’s death sentence, ruling in its decision on Irvin v. Dowd 359 U.S. 394 (1959) that Irvin had not received a fair trial, due to the effect of pre-trial publicity.

Hughes said that in addition to being a permanent fixture in the old courthouse, the videos will air later this year on local Public Broadcasting affiliate WNIN. Students will offer a sneak preview of their work at a luncheon on April 28.

The planning for the anniversary celebration began three years ago, when past EBA President Dan Carwile assembled and chaired the committee to raise the nearly $300,000 needed for the restoration of the old courthouse. Current EBA President Krista Lockyear and Judge Carl Heldt worked closely with The Old Courthouse Foundation and the architect working on the project to make sure the building would be both functional and historically accurate.

EBA Executive Director Susan Vollmer said attorneys Todd Glass and Doug Briody spent hundreds of hours sifting through Bartelt’s research to create a display for the history center.

Cost to attend the reception on April 29 is $55, and attendees must register in advance by contacting Cathy Martin at or (812) 426-1712.•


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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