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Former clerks recall a judge who gave support and kindness

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The Hon. Robert H. Staton achieved many professional milestones in his lengthy career. But after his death on July 18, what people seemed to remember most about him was his enduring positive influence in their lives.

Judge Staton served on the Indiana Court of Appeals for nearly 30 years before retiring in 2000. In that time, he helped shape the careers of the many men and women who clerked for him. Judy Vale Newton was one of those people.
 

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“Judge Staton hired his clerks with an eye toward establishing a companionable work environment ... and, indeed, it was,” Newton wrote in an email to Indiana Lawyer. “We law clerks became good friends. Often the judge would call all of us into his office just to talk. Kids, travel, problems, our futures ... he was interested in it all.”

Newton, of the Indianapolis firm Newton Becker Bouwkamp Pendoski, clerked for Judge Staton from 1979 to 1981. She said the judge was “truly a man before his time” in regard to his understanding of family obligations. Judge Staton told her that as long as she kept her production up, during the summer she could work from home several days a week in order to spend time with her two young children.


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Linda Hammel, of the Indianapolis firm Yarling & Robinson, clerked for Judge Staton from 1972 to 1976.

“At the time I was his law clerk, I was the only female law clerk on the Court of Appeals,” she said, adding that she met her future husband while clerking.

“Judge Staton married us. We were his first wedding – he was so nervous,” she recalled. “We stayed close over the years, because he was such a big part of starting my career and my family.”

Giving back

In 2005, a group of Judge Staton’s former clerks launched a fundraising campaign with the goal of naming the moot court competition at the Indiana University School of Law – Indianapolis, Judge Staton’s alma mater, in his honor. Leading this effort was attorney Tom Hall of the South Bend Firm Tuesley Hall Konopa, also one of Judge Staton’s former clerks.

“He was a mentor to all of us clerks – he respected us, respected our abilities, and made us better people,” Hall said. “He just did so much for our profession that I felt it very important to recognize him while he was still here.”

Hall, with the help of Hammel and former clerks John Ittenbach and Kevin Knight, reached out to other past clerks, appeals court judges, and friends of Judge Staton, and created an endowed account to allow The Honorable Robert H. Staton Intramural Court Competition to continue in perpetuity.


hall-tom-mug Hall

IU School of Law – Indianapolis Dean Gary Roberts said that in 2007, Judge Staton established a fund to support the Honorable Robert H. Staton Best Brief Scholarship, awarded to a student in the legal analysis, research, and communication class who has written the best brief.

“We were deeply saddened to learn of Judge Staton’s passing,” Roberts said. “He was a great friend of the law school, having served on our alumni board for many years. Not only was he a past president of the board and a past recipient of our Distinguished Alumni Award, he cared deeply about our students.”

Breaking ground

Judge Staton wrote, “The History of Mandatory Continuing Legal Education in Indiana,” featured in the Valparaiso University Law Review in 2006. In that article, he wrote that Indiana State Bar Association president Thomas Scanlon “chose a young, inexperienced lawyer” (Staton) to lead a team in creating a glossy new publication for the ISBA. Under Staton’s leadership, the team published the first edition of Res Gestae in November of 1956, with Staton becoming its first editor.

Judge Staton was also chairman of a task force in 1984 that researched mandatory continuing legal education in 17 other states. The group put together a recommendation that Indiana adopt mandatory CLE requirements, presenting its research for the 1985 spring meeting of the ISBA. The House of Delegates approved the rule as submitted by the task force. Later, the Indiana Supreme Court adopted Rule 29, which calls for mandatory CLE, and the rule became effective on Oct. 1, 1986. Judge Staton became the first chairman of the Indiana Commission for Continuing Legal Education, making Indiana the 18th state to adopt such requirements.

Judge Staton was president of the law school’s alumni association and served on its board of directors from 2004 to 2007. He served on the executive council for IU, representing the law school.

The judge was a prolific writer – he wrote more than 3,000 majority opinions during his time on the appeals court, and he was known for his historical accounts of Indiana’s legal system.

“He was a student of the history of the law, so often you would find in the footnotes in his opinions an explanation of how the law came about … even back to Roman times,” Hammel said.

He also received the title of “life honorary editor” of the Indiana Law Review.

Early career

Judge Staton served in World War II with the 91st Infantry Division of the 5th Army and was attached to the 801 Special Combat Force, which specialized in reconnaissance work behind enemy lines. He achieved the rank of major and was awarded numerous medals, including a Silver Star, two Bronze Stars, and the Distinguished Flying Cross.

After earning his law degree in 1955, he became a deputy prosecuting attorney in Marion County, eventually becoming chief trial deputy prosecutor. He then entered private practice, founding the firm of Staton & Ward.

John Ittenbach became the judge’s first clerk after Judge Staton was elected to the Indiana Court of Appeals in 1970, the last appellate court election before merit-selection began in 1971.

“Being able to finish the last two years of law school while clerking for him was probably the best thing that ever happened to me,” Ittenbach said. In addition to learning about writing persuasively and analytical thinking, Ittenbach, of the firm Ittenbach Johnson Trettin & Koeller, said he learned about the importance of character in the legal profession.

“In my opinion he was a gentleman lawyer – he never said anything disparaging about anybody else,” Ittenbach said. “I consider him a mentor and a model for how lawyers should be. I’ve been practicing law for 37 years now, and I would still go to him for advice occasionally.”

The judge taught his clerks not only how to practice law, Ittebach said, but how to appreciate it.

Judge Staton, who was 86, was preceded in death by his wife, Jane Ellen (Cox) Staton. He is survived by his two daughters who are also attorneys, Jennifer Staton Stoesz (Steven), of Carmel; and Elizabeth Staton Idleman (Scott), of Milwaukee. He has four grandchildren.

Memorial contributions may be made to The Honorable Robert H. Staton Intramural Moot Court Competition at IU School of Law – Indianapolis c/o IU Foundation Showalter House, P.O. Box 500, Bloomington, Ind., 47402; or Carmel Clay Public Library Foundation, 55 4th Ave. S.E., Carmel, Ind., 46032. Funeral services were July 25 at Second Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis.•
 

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  1. I like the concept. Seems like a good idea and really inexpensive to manage.

  2. I don't agree that this is an extreme case. There are more of these people than you realize - people that are vindictive and/or with psychological issues have clogged the system with baseless suits that are costly to the defendant and to taxpayers. Restricting repeat offenders from further abusing the system is not akin to restricting their freedon, but to protecting their victims, and the court system, from allowing them unfettered access. From the Supreme Court opinion "he has burdened the opposing party and the courts of this state at every level with massive, confusing, disorganized, defective, repetitive, and often meritless filings."

  3. So, if you cry wolf one too many times courts may "restrict" your ability to pursue legal action? Also, why is document production equated with wealth? Anyone can "produce probably tens of thousands of pages of filings" if they have a public library card. I understand this is an extreme case, but our Supreme Court really got this one wrong.

  4. He called our nation a nation of cowards because we didn't want to talk about race. That was a cheap shot coming from the top cop. The man who decides who gets the federal government indicts. Wow. Not a gentleman if that is the measure. More importantly, this insult delivered as we all understand, to white people-- without him or anybody needing to explain that is precisely what he meant-- but this is an insult to timid white persons who fear the government and don't want to say anything about race for fear of being accused a racist. With all the legal heat that can come down on somebody if they say something which can be construed by a prosecutor like Mr Holder as racist, is it any wonder white people-- that's who he meant obviously-- is there any surprise that white people don't want to talk about race? And as lawyers we have even less freedom lest our remarks be considered violations of the rules. Mr Holder also demonstrated his bias by publically visiting with the family of the young man who was killed by a police offering in the line of duty, which was a very strong indicator of bias agains the offer who is under investigation, and was a failure to lead properly by letting his investigators do their job without him predetermining the proper outcome. He also has potentially biased the jury pool. All in all this worsens race relations by feeding into the perception shared by whites as well as blacks that justice will not be impartial. I will say this much, I do not blame Obama for all of HOlder's missteps. Obama has done a lot of things to stay above the fray and try and be a leader for all Americans. Maybe he should have reigned Holder in some but Obama's got his hands full with other problelms. Oh did I mention HOlder is a bank crony who will probably get a job in a silkstocking law firm working for millions of bucks a year defending bankers whom he didn't have the integrity or courage to hold to account for their acts of fraud on the United States, other financial institutions, and the people. His tenure will be regarded by history as a failure of leadership at one of the most important jobs in our nation. Finally and most importantly besides him insulting the public and letting off the big financial cheats, he has been at the forefront of over-prosecuting the secrecy laws to punish whistleblowers and chill free speech. What has Holder done to vindicate the rights of privacy of the American public against the illegal snooping of the NSA? He could have charged NSA personnel with violations of law for their warrantless wiretapping which has been done millions of times and instead he did not persecute a single soul. That is a defalcation of historical proportions and it signals to the public that the government DOJ under him was not willing to do a damn thing to protect the public against the rapid growth of the illegal surveillance state. Who else could have done this? Nobody. And for that omission Obama deserves the blame too. Here were are sliding into a police state and Eric Holder made it go all the faster.

  5. JOE CLAYPOOL candidate for Superior Court in Harrison County - Indiana This candidate is misleading voters to think he is a Judge by putting Elect Judge Joe Claypool on his campaign literature. paragraphs 2 and 9 below clearly indicate this injustice to voting public to gain employment. What can we do? Indiana Code - Section 35-43-5-3: Deception (a) A person who: (1) being an officer, manager, or other person participating in the direction of a credit institution, knowingly or intentionally receives or permits the receipt of a deposit or other investment, knowing that the institution is insolvent; (2) knowingly or intentionally makes a false or misleading written statement with intent to obtain property, employment, or an educational opportunity; (3) misapplies entrusted property, property of a governmental entity, or property of a credit institution in a manner that the person knows is unlawful or that the person knows involves substantial risk of loss or detriment to either the owner of the property or to a person for whose benefit the property was entrusted; (4) knowingly or intentionally, in the regular course of business, either: (A) uses or possesses for use a false weight or measure or other device for falsely determining or recording the quality or quantity of any commodity; or (B) sells, offers, or displays for sale or delivers less than the represented quality or quantity of any commodity; (5) with intent to defraud another person furnishing electricity, gas, water, telecommunication, or any other utility service, avoids a lawful charge for that service by scheme or device or by tampering with facilities or equipment of the person furnishing the service; (6) with intent to defraud, misrepresents the identity of the person or another person or the identity or quality of property; (7) with intent to defraud an owner of a coin machine, deposits a slug in that machine; (8) with intent to enable the person or another person to deposit a slug in a coin machine, makes, possesses, or disposes of a slug; (9) disseminates to the public an advertisement that the person knows is false, misleading, or deceptive, with intent to promote the purchase or sale of property or the acceptance of employment;

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