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Former ISBA president Rabb Emison dies

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Even after longtime attorney Ewing Rabb Emison Jr. had finished his service as a pivotal president of the Indiana State Bar Association more than two decades ago, his legacy has inspired generations of attorneys and will continue to do so in the future.
 

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That is the clear message from Indiana’s legal community, which is reflecting on the retired Vincennes attorney’s life and legal career following his death Sept, 1. Emison was 85.

Lawyers throughout the state are honoring the memory of a man they say often talked about how lawyers ought to hold themselves out to the public and strive to be ethical, not only for the profession and themselves but also for the community and state.

“He was an ambassador – an ambassador of good will, an ambassador for the bar and for lawyers in Indiana,” said Carmel attorney and mediator Samuel Chic Born II, a friend of Emison’s since the early ’70s. “I am proud to have been his friend, and I am better for his friendship.”

The last descendant in Knox County of a pioneer family that arrived in 1804, Emison followed in his ancestors’ footsteps in the legal profession and legislative arena. His father and grandfather had become lawyers without attending law school, and his ancestor Thomas Emison was on the original committee that had selected Indianapolis as the site for the state capitol.

Rabb Emison’s obituary noted that he was most proud that in the past century, the three generations of his family had prepared and lobbied for legislation in the areas of flood control, conservation, aviation, and historic preservation.

He joined the U.S. Navy in 1942 and served on active duty during World War II for three years. He was called back to active duty with the Navy for 18 months during the Korean War, and was notified in 1962 to expect another recall, which didn’t occur. Emison graduated from DePauw University before attending and graduating in 1950 from what’s now Indiana University Maurer School of Law – Bloomington.

But in the legal profession, he spent his entire career with the same firm – now Emison Doolittle Kolb & Roellgen in Vincennes – that he joined to practice with his father upon graduating from law school.

Serving as ISBA president from 1986 to 1987, Emison is most widely known for his work on expanding diversity for the organization and legal community. His efforts led to the creation of what is now the Racial Diversity in the Legal Profession committee to promote the employment and advancement of minority lawyers. The association created the Rabb Emison Award in his honor and gives it each year to an attorney who best serves the goal of assisting minority lawyers. In 2003 he received the American Bar Association’s Spirit of Excellence Award for his contributions.

“He was one of those unsung heroes for minority lawyers and getting more participation for the ISBA,” said Bingham McHale partner Rod Morgan, the ISBA’s first African-American president who finishes his term next month. “He was a mentor, fine lawyer, and a friend. He was on the cutting edge of things as far as diversity, and Rabb was always there as a champion.”

Evansville attorney Wesley Bowers interviewed Emison for the ISBA oral history project, which has been compiled into a transcript made available to the public through the association and Indiana Historical Society. Bowers interviewed Emison about his three stints in the Navy, as well as his family’s history in the legal profession.

Emison was well-known for the more than 50 columns he’d written for the association’s publication “Res Gestae” during and after his time as ISBA president. In his interview with Bowers, Emison said his columns were not so much about the law but about the behavior of attorneys who practice it. The columns were recently compiled into a book that he self-published and that the ISBA is helping to distribute.

Past ISBA president Bill Jonas in South Bend said, “Rabb Emison was a terrific lawyer, a gifted writer, and a dynamic leader. His efforts with the ISBA, especially in the advocacy of greater diversity, were truly remarkable. He embodied all the best of what it means to be an Indiana lawyer. On top of this, he was as fine a man as I have ever known. You could always count on Rabb for a wonderful story … usually one that illustrated in his uniquely Hoosier way the point he was making with you as he gently persuaded you to do what was right.”

Born, also a past ISBA president, described his friend as both a gentle and thinking soul, made clear by not only his legal writing but also how he always gave someone the benefit of the doubt. Born said that even though Emison received recognition for his diversity and civil rights efforts, that’s not why he did it; rather it was because of a belief that he could, and did, improve the human condition.

Retired Lafayette lawyer Russ Hart, who served as ISBA president the year following Emison, said his longtime friend’s “Res Gestae” writings ought to be required reading for all new lawyers as well as for longtime practitioners.

“Rabb was a teacher all the time, and he was teaching lawyers every time he spoke,” Hart said. “His word was his bond, and he wrote a lot like he spoke … as a plain person who was very good at expressing himself. If Rabb was in favor of a particular subject, you knew it was a good thing to be aware of yourself.”

“Rabb was a modest guy who didn’t strive for publicity,” Hart said.

Emison is survived by his wife of 57 years, Kathleen, and his daughters Susan Emison of Louisville and Anne Emison Wishard (Gordon) of Indianapolis.

Funeral services were in Vincennes, and Emison’s family asked that memorial contributions be made to the Grouseland Foundation, 3 W. Scott St., Vincennes, IN 47591 or online at grouselandfoundation.org for an endowment to sustain the mansion.•

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  1. 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.

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