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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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