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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: www.feelthehistory.com.)

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 cathy@evvbar.org or (812) 426-1712.•

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  1. My daughter was taken from my home at the end of June/2014. I said I would sign the safety plan but my husband would not. My husband said he would leave the house so my daughter could stay with me but the case worker said no her mind is made up she is taking my daughter. My daughter went to a friends and then the friend filed a restraining order which she was told by dcs if she did not then they would take my daughter away from her. The restraining order was not in effect until we were to go to court. Eventually it was dropped but for 2 months DCS refused to allow me to have any contact and was using the restraining order as the reason but it was not in effect. This was Dcs violating my rights. Please help me I don't have the money for an attorney. Can anyone take this case Pro Bono?

  2. If justice is not found in a court room, it's time to clean house!!! Even judges are accountable to a higher Judge!!!

  3. The small claims system, based on my recent and current usage of it, is not exactly a shining example of justice prevailing. The system appears slow and clunky and people involved seem uninterested in actually serving justice within a reasonable time frame. Any improvement in accountability and performance would gain a vote from me. Speaking of voting, what do the people know about judges and justice from the bench perspective. I think they have a tendency to "vote" for judges based on party affiliation or name coolness factor (like Stoner, for example!). I don't know what to do in my current situation other than grin and bear it, but my case is an example of things working neither smoothly, effectively nor expeditiously. After this experience I'd pay more to have the higher courts hear the case -- if I had the money. Oh the conundrum.

  4. My dear Smith, I was beginning to fear, from your absense, that some Obrien of the Nanny State had you in Room 101. So glad to see you back and speaking truth to power, old chum.

  5. here is one from Reason magazine. these are not my words, but they are legitimate concerns. http://reason.com/blog/2010/03/03/fearmongering-at-the-splc quote: "The Southern Poverty Law Center, which would paint a box of Wheaties as an extremist threat if it thought that would help it raise funds, has issued a new "intelligence report" announcing that "an astonishing 363 new Patriot groups appeared in 2009, with the totals going from 149 groups (including 42 militias) to 512 (127 of them militias) -- a 244% jump." To illustrate how dangerous these groups are, the Center cites some recent arrests of right-wing figures for planning or carrying out violent attacks. But it doesn't demonstrate that any of the arrestees were a part of the Patriot milieu, and indeed it includes some cases involving racist skinheads, who are another movement entirely. As far as the SPLC is concerned, though, skinheads and Birchers and Glenn Beck fans are all tied together in one big ball of scary. The group delights in finding tenuous ties between the tendencies it tracks, then describing its discoveries in as ominous a tone as possible." --- I wonder if all the republicans that belong to the ISBA would like to know who and why this outfit was called upon to receive such accolades. I remember when they were off calling Trent Lott a bigot too. Preposterous that this man was brought to an overwhelmingly republican state to speak. This is a nakedly partisan institution and it was a seriously bad choice.

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