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Farm Bureau counsel eyes laws of the land

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In-House Counsel

Mark Thornburg, general counsel and director of legal affairs for the Indiana Farm Bureau, never considered becoming an attorney until he was 30 years old. His father was a “small-time” farmer, he said, and Thornburg grew up with an eye on the issues that mattered most to farmers.

He graduated from Purdue University with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural economics, and he earned a master’s in business administration from Ball State University. He ultimately decided to pursue his law degree after returning from a Washington, D.C., fellowship offered through the United States Department of Agriculture and National Association of Counties.

“I could see the importance of the legal component for agriculture, and it was not a total void – there were ag attorneys out there, but not nearly enough,” Thornburg said. He enrolled in Valparaiso University School of Law and earned his juris doctor in 1998.

Indiana Farm Bureau hired Thornburg as an environmental attorney in 1999. Nowadays, as the director of legal affairs, he oversees the bureau’s legal team and handles a wide variety of legal tasks. The bureau has about 280,000 members statewide. Around 80,000 of those members are farmers, and the rest are either people with an interest in agriculture or Farm Bureau Insurance policyholders. (Insurance, Thornburg points out, is just one of the many perks of bureau membership).
 

thornburg-mark15col Mark Thornburg is general counsel and director of legal affairs for the Indiana Farm Bureau. (IL Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

Thornburg plays a significant role in developing Indiana Farm Bureau’s public policy agenda. The bureau’s structure as a 501(c)(5) – a status granted only to labor, agricultural, or horticultural organizations – allows it to be classified as a non-profit while granting it the ability to lobby. Thornburg and one other attorney on the legal team are both registered lobbyists.

Issues that are important to farmers are important to the Indiana Farm Bureau. “And that can be a variety of things from grain contracting to bankruptcy to natural resources to land use planning to the Farm Bill – transportation, health regulations – a wide variety of things,” Thornburg said.

Under Thornburg’s direction, the bureau gained significant ground in the legal community. In 2005, he helped launch the Indiana Agricultural Law Foundation, a non-profit subsidiary of the farm bureau.

Indiana Farm Bureau President Don Villwock said, “Mark’s vision of the need for and the founding of the Indiana Bar Ag Law Foundation has been a key to helping farmers in precedent-setting cases in our state. He was also one of the original attorneys that saw the need for an Ag Law section of the Indiana State Bar Association.”

Thornburg said the non-profit Indiana Agricultural Law Foundation does not provide one-on-one legal advice to farmers. But it may provide funding in support of some cases it believes have broad applications in the agricultural community.

“We have an advisory committee that reviews cases that’s made up of agricultural attorneys and farmers, and then the committee makes a recommendation to the board for approval and denial,” Thornburg said.

The subject matter in some of the cases the foundation has supported has included the right of property owners to allow high-fenced hunting on their own land, Indiana’s Right to Farm Act, and whether violating an administrative statute constitutes a crime (the charges were dropped in that case).

He said that the foundation has limited financial resources and therefore must be selective in deciding which cases to support. Increasingly, it has been funding educational programs. Thornburg said he hopes attorneys around the state feel free to contact the Indiana Farm Bureau legal team about any cases that may be relevant to farming.

Outreach efforts

Because of Thornburg’s background – including 18 years working for the Purdue Cooperative Extension – he understands some of the ongoing, deep-seeded issues that affect farmers. And he understands the culture.

“I guess it’s like any industry,” he said. “There’s kind of a culture and vocabulary that’s very specific to their business.”

He said that people may not realize that even today, many farm agreements or leases are either oral or sealed with a handshake.

“Eastern Livestock went bankrupt earlier this year and they did a huge-volume business with most of it not in writing,” he said. “What I like to say is you don’t write agreements for the times that go well. Farmers need to be – and for the large part, many of them have become – very sophisticated business people.”

Thornburg said that one cause of anxiety in the farming community is that the people making decisions that directly affect farmers often don’t understand the farmers’ point of view. Eminent domain, he said, is one such cause of concern.

“Where public utilities go is generally the path of least resistance, which is through our members’ farmland,” Thornburg said. And when a builder is making money off of something built on a farmer’s land, it causes tension.

“A lot of regulators don’t understand the culture of what they’re trying to regulate,” Thornburg said. “There’s no smokestack to measure the output of a farm like you would the output of a factory.”

The Indiana Farm Bureau legal team tries to bridge that gap between farmer and regulator, helping farmers understand the rationale behind certain regulations and how those regulations could affect their livelihoods.

“We’ve tried to work with American Farm Bureau in other states to develop a system where states talk about these issues more,” he said.•

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    I am a township trustee in Indiana. I am currently dealing with a fence dispute. A woman wants to install a fence around her 18 acres to raise cattle. The county surveyor and planning commission says there is no state law that require the owners who don't want to pay for half of the fence to do so. Trying to educate myself on this issue online, everything I read states otherwise. Who is correct? I need to make a correct decision. Regards, Linda

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  1. Am I the only one who sees that the City is essentially giving away the MSA site AND giving millions to build new buildings on the site when this site would be the perfect place for the Justice Complex? Across from City-County, check; keeping it centrally located, check, etc. It's my understanding that the GM site must be purchased by the City from Motors Liquidation Company. STOP WASTING WHAT WE ALREADY HAVE AND OUR TAX DOLLARS! The Ballard Administration has not been known for it's common sense...never voted for him and never will!

  2. This guy sounds like the classic molester/manipulator.

  3. Louis D. Brandeis was born in 1856. At 9 years of age it would have been 1865. The Brandeis family did not own slaves. My source Louis D. Brandeis: A Life, by Melvin L. Urofsky.

  4. My name is Matthew Lucas Major, I recently went through a jury trial in Bloomington , In. It was the week of Feb 19-21. Although I have been incarcerated since August 5, 2014. The reason I 'am writing to you sir is on the 21 of February the jury came in with a very excessive and wrongful verdict of guilty on 6 child molesting charges against my daughter who was 9 at the time I was accused. I also had 2 other Felonies one of Intimidation and 1 of Sexual Vicarious Gratification. Judge Marc Kellam on the second day of trial gave me a not guilty on those 2 felonies. The jury was sent out during that time and when brought back Judge Kellam told them to not concern themselves with the 2 Felonies that he ruled on them. They were told to not let evidence they had already heard influence there verdicts. I never in my life touched any child sexually and definitely not with my own daughter. When I was arrested Detective Shawn Karr told me I would be convicted guilty just on my daughters word even without evidence. That's just what happened. my public defender did me so wrong he never once proved to the court and jury all the lies the child told, and Jeremy Noel my public defender could of proven the lies easily. The stories in Serenity's depositions and Forensic interview changed and were not consistent as Prosecutor Darcie Fawcett claimed they were. Yet my attorney never mentioned that. The facts that the child accused me of full penetration in her vagina and rectum was proven lies. Doctor Roberta Hibbard of Riley hospital in Indianapolis confirmed Serenity's hymen intact, no scars, no tearing, no signs of rape to her. Yet my attorney didn't use that knowledge . the DNA was all in my favor. I tell you I will spend my entire life in prison going through rape and beatings etc. even Judge Kellam abused his authority by telling the jurors to listen and believe what the prosecutors side in evidence like my daughters testimony. In one interview with the detectives my daughter got flustered with her mom and said on camera " I'm saying what you told me to mom"!! Yet Mr. Noel said nor did anything to even resemble a defense attorney. Judge Kellam allowed edited version of a taped conversation between the child and her mother. Also Judge Kellam allowed the Prosecutor too bring in to my case a knife found under my seat, the knife wasn't part of my case. She was allowed by my attorney and the judge to put a huge picture of it on the screen and huge picture of my naked privates in a full courtroom and open court. Ms. Fawcett says to jury see how easy Mr. Major could reach the knife and cut his Childs throat. Even though I had no weapons charge against these cases. This gave the jurors prejudice thought against me thinking I threatened her with that knife and how scared she would of been knowing i could get it and kill her. On my sentencing court March 19, 2014 my public defender told Judge Kellam he wish to resign from being my attorney and wished for the court to give me outside council to file a error to trial or appeal. We were denied. Now after openly knowing my public defender don't want to represent me he has to. Well when as parents we make our kids clean a room when they really don't wish to, well the child will but don't mean she will do a good job, that's where I'm at with Mr. Noel. please dont ignore mine and my families pleas for your help . we have all the legal proof you could need to prove Im innocent. Please dont make my spend years in prison innocent when you can fix this wrong. Im not saying Im a perfect man or that I was a perfect dad to my 2 children none of us are. Ive made some bad choices in life and I paid for them. But I didnt ever touch or rape my daughter . I love my children with all my heart. And now through needing attention and a ex-wife who told my granny several times she wish she could put me in prison to get me out of their lives. Well my ex finally accomplished her goal. Sad part is she is destroying our daughter with all this horrific lies and things she taught my daughter to say. My daughter will need therapist to ever hope for a chance of a normal life after what she had done to her by her mom and their side of the family. My daughter told everyone even on stand she had a dream months before i supposedly molested her in this dream I was molesting her and when I finally did it matched her dream perfectly. She admitted to watching movies about little girls being molested and watching U-Tube videos about child molesting all before it happened supposedly to her. Doesn't that sound very unusual that a non molested 9 yr old would need to know so much about being molested? The only reason I could think a 9 year old would need so much information is to be prepared to know what to say and be able to say how it felt what took place etc.. So when questioned by authorities she would be prepared. And there again sir if a parent is pre grooming a 9 year old child she would need intimate details . Like telling her daughter about a couple moles on my private area. The child admitted to sneaking my cell and looking many many times at nudes of me and my girlfriend even one where my penis was entering my girlfriends vagina. In that picture my moles are obvious. Yet when prosecutor showed everyone in court my privates and pictures of the moles she said the only way the child would know about them is if she saw them for herself. My attorney once again said nothing about the pictures my child saw. Or could a ex-wife be able to describe my moles to help her case against getting rid of me? I beg you help me. This is my very existence. Ive lost everything , a good job, a wonderful girlfriend, my freedom, but worse thing Ive lost is my children. They were my reason to get up every morning and strive to be better. The wonderful bond I had with my Serenity is gone. After this I would be afraid to even hug her for fear of what next can they do to me. I'm not afraid to tell you I sit here in this cell and try to hold back my tears. Everyone knows you cant show weakness in prison. My life has already been threatened here at Wabash Valley Prison. After only 3 days of arrival. I was tricked into signing a waiver now Im in G Block General Population with 6 child molesting felony charges. Mrs. Hart as a 18 year old I almost died hooked to machines in hospital almost 1 month and now I know that fear was childish compared to this . I cant help but put emotions in this, after all Mrs. Hart Im human and God help Me I never been more afraid in my life. I didnt hurt my little girl I didnt touch her sexually. As much as it shreds me and fills my mind what Im facing I worry more about my mom and granny because of their great love for me mam they are suffering so deeply. I aint done this things but my loved ones suffering right along beside me and If you take my case you will be in essence freeing them also. I sent momma this letter and asked her to email it to you. I'm scared I have been done so unjustly by our legal system and I need you to fix this and give me freedom. I ask you please don't just ignore my pleas. Here in America its nice to be able to trust our legal justice system, well they destroyed my and my loved ones trust in our justice system . And I'm trusting in You !!! My entire family is suffering this nightmare with me. My 77 year old granny had a stroke and isn't doing so well. My single mother that raised 3 kids alone is dying from Lupus and since my arrest has stayed so sick and weary. Our lives torn to peices by a government I was taught I could trust in. my momma has tried so many innocent project and wrongfully accused and cant get anywhere. please please help me. A quote from the late Nelson Mandela: To be free is not merely to cast off ones chains, But to live in a way that respects and enhances The Freedom Of Others. I have Faith in you and your clinic to cast my chains off and give me freedom I do deserve as a wrongfully accused Man, son, brother, father, friend. Matthew Major DOC# 246179 Cause # : 53c02-1308-FA-000779 God Bless you. Please contact me with your decision so I know you made a life changing decision for me , just please at least write me so I know you care enough about your citizens to respond to cries for your help. You can speak openly with my mother Charlotte Spain (828) 476-0406: 71 Lakeview Dr. Canton, NC 28716 Thank You Matthew Major I know yall get thousands of request and inmates claiming innocence, and each person who are innocent deserve to have organizations like yours willing to fight for them and I give yall so much Thanks and I thank God everyday yall are out there caring enough to help free the innocents. Since discovering firsthand how easily lives and families can be destroyed by Poor Defense attorneys not doing their job . And Prosecutors allowed to do as they please in court

  5. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

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