Gary mayor issues call to action for attorneys

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Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson implored members of the Marion County Bar Association to speak up because the gains made by previous generations of African-Americans are being rolled back.

“We need to speak up because people can’t hear us,” she said. “So I’ve come to challenge you tonight to speak up. And remind you that our mission to pursue freedom and justice in every arena is just as important today as it was 400 years ago when we got here or even on the day that we took the oath to be an attorney.”

mcba-15col.jpg Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson was presented with an award after her address at the Kuykendall-Conn Awards Banquet. Pictured (from left): Judie Hawley Conley, Kuykendall-Conn program chair; TaKeena Thompson, Marion County Bar Association president; Freeman-Wilson; and Tara Melton, MCBA board chair. (Photo/Mike Washington)

Freeman-Wilson was the keynote speaker during the MCBA’s Kuykendall-Conn Awards Banquet Aug. 23. The event, which was attended by 150 people, was held in downtown Indianapolis.

In addition to remarks from the mayor of Gary, the association recognized a handful of members for outstanding service to the profession and the community.

Jimmie L. McMillian, partner at Barnes & Thornburg LLP, was presented with the Appreciation of Service Award and Dennis E. Bland, president of the Center for Leadership Development, was given the Community Service Award. Faegre Baker Daniels LLP was recognized with the Commitment to Diversity Award. The Justice, Fairness and Equality Award was presented posthumously to attorney and advocate Sandra Leek. Her sister, Cynthia Leek Cleveland, accepted the honor.

Included in the evening was the National Bar Association’s recognition of Hall of Fame inductee the late Clyde Williams, Jr.

Following Freeman-Wilson’s remarks, MCBA president TaKeena Thompson presented her with an award to commemorate the mayor’s commitment to justice, fairness and equality.

The dinner is named in honor of former Marion Superior Court Judge Rufus Kuykendall, one of the first African-Americans to be elected to the bench in Marion County, and attorney Harriette V. Bailey Conn, the first woman and first African-American to be appointed Public Defender of Indiana by the Indiana Supreme Court.

Freeman-Wilson credited the trailblazing efforts of people like Kuykendall and Conn with helping to open doors and enabling her to achieve. Freeman-Wilson was the first woman elected mayor of Gary and the first African-American female mayor in Indiana.

In a speech that blended humor, a sense of urgency and gentle admonishment, the Gary mayor told the association members they have a duty to heed the scripture that says to whom much is given, much shall be required. They have a responsibility to care for and advocate on behalf of people of color.

She talked about the outrage that followed the not guilty verdict in the Trayvon Martin case and then questioned why that sentiment has not translated into action, especially in the African-American community.

“This isn’t the first time in the history of these United States that hatred, ignorance and outrageous conduct have been fueled…by race,” Freeman-Wilson said.

She then mused that maybe the inaction is caused by African-Americans forgetting the history of oppression and fear. Maybe the violence of the lynching tree and Bloody Sunday have slipped their minds.

“Or maybe,” she said, “we’ve been lulled to sleep by the progress created by the Civil Rights Act or the Voting Rights Act – oh, I forgot, they took that one away.”  

Members of the MCBA have to speak up because there are now new subtleties in unequal treatment that sometimes causes people to miss the issue, she said. As examples, she pointed to the expressway into the industrial prison complex and the debilitating affect of public housing.

More than speak up, Freeman-Wilson said they have to convey sentiment into action.

She then encouraged her audience to commit to doing something every week to help young people and to use their gifts of advocacy to stand up for those unable to stand up for themselves.

“Every one of us in this room and, many of us who aren’t in this room, has a microphone,” Freeman-Wilson said. “You don’t have to be a lawyer to have a microphone. Sometimes it’s your legal training but other times it’s another area of training, expertise. Sometimes it’s our status in the community, our analytical ability. Very often it’s simply our fearlessness and our willingness to speak truth to power.”•


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  1. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  2. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  3. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.

  4. rensselaer imdiana is doing same thing to children from the judge to attorney and dfs staff they need to be investigated as well

  5. Sex offenders are victims twice, once when they are molested as kids, and again when they repeat the behavior, you never see money spent on helping them do you. That's why this circle continues