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George Rubin's 54 years in law built firm and shaped modern Indianapolis

Dave Stafford
December 18, 2013
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Indianapolis was America’s 26th biggest city when George Rubin began his legal career 54 years ago. It’s fair to say Rubin drafted the blueprint that transformed the city into the nation’s 12th largest.

Likewise, the founder of Rubin & Levin P.C. has influenced the growth and development of generations of attorneys.

rubinlevin01-15col.jpg George Rubin co-founded Rubin & Levin P.C. in 1977 with founding partner Elliott Levin. (IL Photo/Aaron P. Bernstein)

As he prepares to retire at the end of the year from a career spanning seven decades, Rubin, 81, can look back on professional accomplishments that place him a few notches above “mover and shaker.”

A state senator from 1969 to 1973, Rubin sponsored the Unigov legislation that created the consolidated city-county government structure for Indianapolis. He said he never imagined at the time that Indianapolis would grow as it has, but he’s not one to take credit.

“Without the right help, this would never have gone through. Dick Lugar was extremely helpful in pushing this through,” he said of the city’s then-mayor. The leadership of Lugar and subsequent mayors William Hudnut and Stephen Goldsmith, “that’s what made the city what it is today,” Rubin said.

Before Rubin left the Statehouse, he also put his stamp on another landmark law by creating the Indiana Uniform Consumer Credit Code. He soon returned to practice, and colleagues say his tireless work ethic and professionalism built a fine reputation for Rubin & Levin P.C.

A wry wit helped, too.

“George’s attention to detail was a learning experience for me,” partner John Hoard recalled of coming to the firm more than 20 years ago, already 12 years into his career.

“What he’s trying to say is, I was a nitpicker,” Rubin quipped, soliciting a quick round of laughs from partners who’ve been with him longest. They talked this month about his influence, which co-founder Elliot Levin said is evidenced by the firm’s national reputation in such representations as commercial collections, creditors’ rights, transactions and corporate bankruptcy.

Levin recalled Rubin carrying home a suitcase full of work after busy days at the office. “He did this because he wanted to know what was going on in each case,” Levin said.

‘Like family’

Christine Hayes Hickey has been Rubin & Levin’s managing partner for about a year, and she said Rubin has been a guide since before she entered the profession. She arrived at the firm straight out of college 25 years ago, then a paralegal studying for her J.D.

Few law school grads today will have such a mentor, she said. Rubin always was willing to help, from drafting letters to talking over the particulars of cases and strategies for negotiating, she said. “Sometimes they were small lessons, but they were life lessons.”

The firm has grown to its present staff of 21 lawyers guided by Rubin’s principles. “A firm this size, we all know and trust each other,” Hickey said. “It’s a little bit like family.”

That’s what an alumna of the firm also says. When partners Rubin and Levin left the old Bamberger & Feibleman firm in 1977 to hang their own shingle, their trusted paralegal Debbie Davis followed. She, too, began law school the next year.

rubinlevin03-15col.jpg Rubin & Levin managing partner Christine Hayes Hickey said Rubin’s example created a family-like atmosphere at the firm. (IL Photo/Aaron P. Bernstein)

“I had them hire this wonderful lawyer from Bamberger & Feibleman who ended up being my husband,” she said, laughing at the recollection. That lawyer was Neil Shook, who worked at the firm until the early 2000s, when the effects of a terminal illness, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, made it impossible to continue.

Davis – now Debbie Shook – remembered the support she received from Rubin and the firm when she took leave to care for Neil, who died in 2003. “They were wonderful, and they loved Neil,” she said. “We were kind of like family. George was like family.”

The firm welcomed Shook back on her schedule after her husband’s passing, and she stayed there until she took a position she still holds as a magistrate in the Marion Superior courts.

Talking about her friend and mentor, Shook recalled Rubin’s encouragement when she pursued law school. It didn’t matter that the law firm was just getting started and it was only Rubin, Levin and her.

“He knew I wanted to do it,” Shook said. “He actually paid a semester of my tuition. … He does have a heart of gold.

“I care very much for George and his wife, Jan, and I have the utmost respect for him. He was my mentor.”

Hoard said he was struck by Rubin’s and Levin’s commitment to family first. The partners strive to accommodate the family life of employees with flexible scheduling, for instance. “That resonates deeply with me,” he said.

Moving to Mass Ave.

When Rubin & Levin moved to its present location in the Marrott Center in 1985, Massachusetts Avenue in Indianapolis wasn’t the hotspot it has become. Rubin concedes it was a little dangerous. Levin remembers having gone to the same building years earlier for his Army induction physical.

But the partners saw something in the location and were able to purchase the five-story building from then-Judge Andy Jacobs Sr., Rubin recalled, well before the first trendy nightclub opened on the downtown strip.

But moving in wasn’t a cinch. The building had to be gutted, and the ground floor housed a retailer called Kelley’s Bargain Store, whose owner “had been there so many years he thought it was his,” Rubin said. But in time, the building was renovated, one of the first redevelopments on the avenue.

Just as the firm was ahead of the curve on selecting a Mass Ave. location, Hoard said the partners also were early adopters of technology. But there were some technological concessions Rubin wasn’t willing to make.

“In this firm, we don’t screen our calls,” Levin said. That’s in keeping with Rubin’s willingness to talk to anyone who dials, and an insistence that lawyers know the details of their clients’ cases well enough to be able to talk with them whenever they call.

Lawyers who trained under Rubin say he set the bar high. Christopher Baker, now a member at Tucker Hester Baker Krebs LLC, worked at Rubin & Levin from 1982 to 2004.

rubinlevin05-15col.jpg Rubin & Levin co-founder Elliott Levin said Rubin fought for principles he believed in, even when it put him at odds with political allies. (IL Photo/Aaron P. Bernstein)

“I watched them grow for a number of years and develop a very good and successful creditors’ rights practice,” Baker said. “That in large part is due to George’s leadership and the way that he thought the practice of law should be accomplished – do it right, put out a good product and zealously represent your client.”

Baker said younger attorneys may not realize Rubin’s influence not just on the profession, but as a drafter of the Uniform Consumer Credit Code. “Seeing George leave the practice of law will clearly make the creditors’ rights bar a little different now. … I think the practice is better in Indianapolis because George was part of it and George helped develop it.”

Levin noted that Rubin also took the forefront even on some difficult issues. He noted, for instance, that Rubin opposed 1970s state laws criminalizing education about abortion rights, a stance that put him at odds with some of his fellow Republicans.

“He feels very principled about a matter and will fight for that principle,” Levin said.

Rubin said his plans for retirement don’t differ from what he did during his working life. He’ll still take daily walks at Eagle Creek Park and still travel with his wife.

Hickey said Rubin will still be setting an example for the firm, just like he’s done for so many lawyers.

“When something leaves our door, we want it to be right,” Hickey said.•

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  1. Louis D. Brandeis was born in 1856. At 9 years of age it would have been 1865. The Brandeis family did not own slaves. My source Louis D. Brandeis: A Life, by Melvin L. Urofsky.

  2. My name is Matthew Lucas Major, I recently went through a jury trial in Bloomington , In. It was the week of Feb 19-21. Although I have been incarcerated since August 5, 2014. The reason I 'am writing to you sir is on the 21 of February the jury came in with a very excessive and wrongful verdict of guilty on 6 child molesting charges against my daughter who was 9 at the time I was accused. I also had 2 other Felonies one of Intimidation and 1 of Sexual Vicarious Gratification. Judge Marc Kellam on the second day of trial gave me a not guilty on those 2 felonies. The jury was sent out during that time and when brought back Judge Kellam told them to not concern themselves with the 2 Felonies that he ruled on them. They were told to not let evidence they had already heard influence there verdicts. I never in my life touched any child sexually and definitely not with my own daughter. When I was arrested Detective Shawn Karr told me I would be convicted guilty just on my daughters word even without evidence. That's just what happened. my public defender did me so wrong he never once proved to the court and jury all the lies the child told, and Jeremy Noel my public defender could of proven the lies easily. The stories in Serenity's depositions and Forensic interview changed and were not consistent as Prosecutor Darcie Fawcett claimed they were. Yet my attorney never mentioned that. The facts that the child accused me of full penetration in her vagina and rectum was proven lies. Doctor Roberta Hibbard of Riley hospital in Indianapolis confirmed Serenity's hymen intact, no scars, no tearing, no signs of rape to her. Yet my attorney didn't use that knowledge . the DNA was all in my favor. I tell you I will spend my entire life in prison going through rape and beatings etc. even Judge Kellam abused his authority by telling the jurors to listen and believe what the prosecutors side in evidence like my daughters testimony. In one interview with the detectives my daughter got flustered with her mom and said on camera " I'm saying what you told me to mom"!! Yet Mr. Noel said nor did anything to even resemble a defense attorney. Judge Kellam allowed edited version of a taped conversation between the child and her mother. Also Judge Kellam allowed the Prosecutor too bring in to my case a knife found under my seat, the knife wasn't part of my case. She was allowed by my attorney and the judge to put a huge picture of it on the screen and huge picture of my naked privates in a full courtroom and open court. Ms. Fawcett says to jury see how easy Mr. Major could reach the knife and cut his Childs throat. Even though I had no weapons charge against these cases. This gave the jurors prejudice thought against me thinking I threatened her with that knife and how scared she would of been knowing i could get it and kill her. On my sentencing court March 19, 2014 my public defender told Judge Kellam he wish to resign from being my attorney and wished for the court to give me outside council to file a error to trial or appeal. We were denied. Now after openly knowing my public defender don't want to represent me he has to. Well when as parents we make our kids clean a room when they really don't wish to, well the child will but don't mean she will do a good job, that's where I'm at with Mr. Noel. please dont ignore mine and my families pleas for your help . we have all the legal proof you could need to prove Im innocent. Please dont make my spend years in prison innocent when you can fix this wrong. Im not saying Im a perfect man or that I was a perfect dad to my 2 children none of us are. Ive made some bad choices in life and I paid for them. But I didnt ever touch or rape my daughter . I love my children with all my heart. And now through needing attention and a ex-wife who told my granny several times she wish she could put me in prison to get me out of their lives. Well my ex finally accomplished her goal. Sad part is she is destroying our daughter with all this horrific lies and things she taught my daughter to say. My daughter will need therapist to ever hope for a chance of a normal life after what she had done to her by her mom and their side of the family. My daughter told everyone even on stand she had a dream months before i supposedly molested her in this dream I was molesting her and when I finally did it matched her dream perfectly. She admitted to watching movies about little girls being molested and watching U-Tube videos about child molesting all before it happened supposedly to her. Doesn't that sound very unusual that a non molested 9 yr old would need to know so much about being molested? The only reason I could think a 9 year old would need so much information is to be prepared to know what to say and be able to say how it felt what took place etc.. So when questioned by authorities she would be prepared. And there again sir if a parent is pre grooming a 9 year old child she would need intimate details . Like telling her daughter about a couple moles on my private area. The child admitted to sneaking my cell and looking many many times at nudes of me and my girlfriend even one where my penis was entering my girlfriends vagina. In that picture my moles are obvious. Yet when prosecutor showed everyone in court my privates and pictures of the moles she said the only way the child would know about them is if she saw them for herself. My attorney once again said nothing about the pictures my child saw. Or could a ex-wife be able to describe my moles to help her case against getting rid of me? I beg you help me. This is my very existence. Ive lost everything , a good job, a wonderful girlfriend, my freedom, but worse thing Ive lost is my children. They were my reason to get up every morning and strive to be better. The wonderful bond I had with my Serenity is gone. After this I would be afraid to even hug her for fear of what next can they do to me. I'm not afraid to tell you I sit here in this cell and try to hold back my tears. Everyone knows you cant show weakness in prison. My life has already been threatened here at Wabash Valley Prison. After only 3 days of arrival. I was tricked into signing a waiver now Im in G Block General Population with 6 child molesting felony charges. Mrs. Hart as a 18 year old I almost died hooked to machines in hospital almost 1 month and now I know that fear was childish compared to this . I cant help but put emotions in this, after all Mrs. Hart Im human and God help Me I never been more afraid in my life. I didnt hurt my little girl I didnt touch her sexually. As much as it shreds me and fills my mind what Im facing I worry more about my mom and granny because of their great love for me mam they are suffering so deeply. I aint done this things but my loved ones suffering right along beside me and If you take my case you will be in essence freeing them also. I sent momma this letter and asked her to email it to you. I'm scared I have been done so unjustly by our legal system and I need you to fix this and give me freedom. I ask you please don't just ignore my pleas. Here in America its nice to be able to trust our legal justice system, well they destroyed my and my loved ones trust in our justice system . And I'm trusting in You !!! My entire family is suffering this nightmare with me. My 77 year old granny had a stroke and isn't doing so well. My single mother that raised 3 kids alone is dying from Lupus and since my arrest has stayed so sick and weary. Our lives torn to peices by a government I was taught I could trust in. my momma has tried so many innocent project and wrongfully accused and cant get anywhere. please please help me. A quote from the late Nelson Mandela: To be free is not merely to cast off ones chains, But to live in a way that respects and enhances The Freedom Of Others. I have Faith in you and your clinic to cast my chains off and give me freedom I do deserve as a wrongfully accused Man, son, brother, father, friend. Matthew Major DOC# 246179 Cause # : 53c02-1308-FA-000779 God Bless you. Please contact me with your decision so I know you made a life changing decision for me , just please at least write me so I know you care enough about your citizens to respond to cries for your help. You can speak openly with my mother Charlotte Spain (828) 476-0406: 71 Lakeview Dr. Canton, NC 28716 Thank You Matthew Major I know yall get thousands of request and inmates claiming innocence, and each person who are innocent deserve to have organizations like yours willing to fight for them and I give yall so much Thanks and I thank God everyday yall are out there caring enough to help free the innocents. Since discovering firsthand how easily lives and families can be destroyed by Poor Defense attorneys not doing their job . And Prosecutors allowed to do as they please in court

  3. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  4. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  5. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

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