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Funeral services set for Indiana federal judge

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U.S. District Judge Allen Sharp in the Northern District of Indiana has died, ending a four decade long judicial career on both the state and federal benches during which he presided over some of the most controversial issues of our time.

The judge died Friday at his home in Goshen. He was 77.

Friends and colleagues remember a man who cared significantly about advancing the law and reaching the right result on any case, and whose deep love for history and the legal profession carried over into everything he did.

"Allen Sharp was an iconic character in Indiana law," said U.S. Judge John D. Tinder, who sits on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. "He loved the law, probably because so much of what is important in law is founded on his true passion: history. For so many decades, he studied, taught and wrote about history and now he is forever part of it."

Born in Washington, D.C., the judge grew up in Brown County. Judge Sharp earned his law degree in 1957 from what was then Indiana University School of Law in Bloomington; he was also awarded an honorary doctor of civil laws later in his career from what's become Indiana State University, and also earned a masters in history from Butler University in 1986.

Out of law school, he practiced privately in Williamsport from 1957 to 1968, when he successfully argued before the U.S. Supreme Court the case of Hopkins v. Cohen, 390 U.S. 530 (1968), involving attorney fees allowed under the Social Security Act.

The judge then made his move to the bench, serving at the state judicial level on the Indiana Appellate Court - the precursor to the Indiana Court of Appeals - from 1969 to his federal appointment in 1973.

Appointed by President Richard Nixon to succeed the late Judge Robert Grant, Judge Sharp took the federal bench Nov. 1, 1973. He served until taking senior status in November 2007, marking more than a third of a century on the District Court bench and making him the fourth longest-serving active District judge at the time.

During his time on the federal bench, Judge Sharp served as chief judge from 1981 to 1996 and he presided over jury trials in four different Districts and sat periodically with three Circuit Courts of Appeals in Chicago, Washington, D.C., and New Orleans.

In the last three decades, the federal judge had been involved in many significant civil and criminal cases, including the desegregation of Fort Wayne elementary schools, a public display of the Ten Commandments in Elkhart, and the quadruple murder case of Joseph Corcoran where he overturned the death sentence.

"Judge Sharp was a fine judge and marvelous colleague," Chief Judge Robert Miller Jr. said in a statement. "All of us at the court mourn his loss."

Indianapolis attorney R. Andrew Young served as one of the judge's first law clerks in 1969 at the state appellate level, and fondly remembers how the two became close friends through the years.

"He was just a fun guy, a man who loved life and had so many varied interests," Young said. "He was a perfect judge because he had questions about everything and he wasn't shy to find an answer."

With a booming voice and gruff manner, the judge had a knack for getting answers and was careful to analyze how they interacted with the facts and written law, Young said.

"He just loved being a judge, and he's someone who earned the respect and admiration from the legal community," Young said.

Aside from the law, he also served in the United States Air Force Reserve from 1957 to 1984, achieving the rank of lieutenant colonel.

Judge Sharp is survived by two daughters and three grandchildren.

Visitation will be 4-9 p.m. Tuesday in the Welsheimer Family Funeral Home North at 17033 Cleveland Road in South Bend. Funeral services are set for 1 p.m. Wednesday at the funeral home, and graveside services will be at 1 p.m. Thursday at New Bellsville Cemetery in New Bellsville in Brown County. Condolences can also be left by e-mail at welshfh@yahoo.com.

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  1. Hysteria? Really Ben? Tell the young lady reported on in the link below that worrying about the sexualizing of our children is mere hysteria. Such thinking is common in the Royal Order of Jesters and other running sex vacays in Thailand or Brazil ... like Indy's Jared Fogle. Those tempted to call such concerns mere histronics need to think on this: http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/a-12-year-old-girl-live-streamed-her-suicide-it-took-two-weeks-for-facebook-to-take-the-video-down/ar-AAlT8ka?li=AA4ZnC&ocid=spartanntp

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  3. This is happening so much. Even in 2016.2017. I hope the father sue for civil rights violation. I hope he sue as more are doing and even without a lawyer as pro-se, he got a good one here. God bless him.

  4. JLAP and other courtiers ... Those running court systems, have most substance abuse issues. Probably self medicating to cover conscience issues arising out of acts furthering govt corruption

  5. I whole-heartedly agree with Doug Church's comment, above. Indiana lawyers were especially fortunate to benefit from Tom Pyrz' leadership and foresight at a time when there has been unprecedented change in the legal profession. Consider how dramatically computer technology and its role in the practice of law have changed over the last 25 years. The impact of the great recession of 2008 dramatically changed the composition and structure of law firms across the country. Economic pressures altered what had long been a routine, robust annual recruitment process for law students and recent law school graduates. That has, in turn, impacted law school enrollment across the country, placing upward pressure on law school tuition. The internet continues to drive significant changes in the provision of legal services in both public and private sectors. The ISBA has worked to make quality legal representation accessible and affordable for all who need it and to raise general public understanding of Indiana laws and procedures. How difficult it would have been to tackle each of these issues without Tom's leadership. Tom has set the tone for positive change at the ISBA to meet the evolving practice needs of lawyers of all backgrounds and ages. He has led the organization with vision, patience, flexibility, commitment, thoughtfulness & even humor. He will, indeed, be a tough act to follow. Thank you, Tom, for all you've done and all the energy you've invested in making the ISBA an excellent, progressive, highly responsive, all-inclusive, respectful & respected professional association during his tenure there.

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