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History-loving attorneys tell the stories of people, places past

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Libby Cierzniak loves to rummage through dusty boxes to see what she might find.

So much hunting has reaped treasures that now compete for space in her house, office, garage and basement. Although the shelves are filled, the Faegre Baker Daniels LLP attorney did not want to stop collecting. So she turned to writing about the things she stumbled across.

il-libby-cierzniak01-15col.jpg Faegre Baker Daniels LLP partner Libby Cierzniak digs up the stories behind the historical treasures she finds, such as those on display in her office. (IL Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

She is most interested in “trying to find ways to make old objects and history relevant to people so they will care about it,” she explained. The items become relevant when people understand how they connect the past to the present.

Highlighting eras and ways of living long gone is a passion shared by many attorneys. Some take their fascination with the past beyond reading history books.

After a day of serving clients, they scroll through microfilm at the local library or go online researching people and places. They then become storytellers who weave together the nuggets of information and tidbits of clues about an individual or incident.

Their tireless sleuthing usually ends with a blog post and sometimes even a book, but they always learn something that adds new insight into present day life.

Cierzniak’s fascination with objects can be traced to her grandmother’s antique shop. The array of items was constantly changing, and her grandmother loved to talk about the things, never admonishing Cierzniak to not touch.

Through her research, she was able to learn the house next door to her current home was purchased in 1877 by Calvin Fletcher Jr., son of Calvin Fletcher, the first lawyer to practice in Indianapolis. She also learned about the heartbreak that visited the house when she happened to find an 1889 Valentine’s Day card addressed to Fletcher Wagner, the great-grandson of the senior Calvin Fletcher.

She dug into Wagner’s life and concluded he likely would have become as prominent a leader as his great-grandfather. He founded the daily newspaper, the “Echo,” at Shortridge High School and attended Harvard Law School. He was also a candidate for a Rhodes Scholarship, but the young man disappeared when he was not selected.

These days she typically does her research at night, searching online sources. She devotes Saturday mornings to writing about what she has learned for the website “Historic Indianapolis.” Sometimes she ventures to the public library to scroll through microfilm or to the Indiana Historical Society to look at the “amazing things” stored there.

She has also been able to make connections and find resources via social media.

“I would not equate me with a true historian,” Cierzniak said. “I am trying to make this fun and relevant for people while being factual and accurate.”

lafayette-ivy-room-credit-indiana-historical-society-15col.jpg Ken Turchi, assistant dean of communications and marketing at Indiana University Maurer School of Law, worked in the Lafayette L.S. Ayres & Co. department store (pictured above in 1958) as a college student.  (Photo courtesy Indiana Historical Society)

Behind the cash register

Ken Turchi grew up in an era when going shopping was a special event and sales clerks were expected to uphold high customer service standards.

So much has changed in retail that he admits he can barely stand to buy clothes in a store today. However, Turchi has preserved days past in his book, “L.S. Ayres and Company: The Store at the Crossroads of America,” published in December 2012 by the Indiana Historical Society Press.

As a college student in the 1970s, he spent a couple of summers working at the Indiana-born store’s Lafayette location. There, his supervisor, Mary Alice Fogarty, instilled in him the principles of customer service. The clerks were not to stand around idly chatting with each other, but rather they were to show

and sell the merchandise to the consumers. “It was fun,” Turchi said. “We were taught to believe it was something special to work there.”

Turchi liked retail and even considered a career in the field but decided instead to go to law school. Today, Turchi is the assistant dean at Indiana University Maurer School of Law.

turchi Turchi

His book chronicles the history of the iconic Indiana department store from 1872 to 2006. Turchi researched and wrote for five years, spending most of his Saturdays at the Indiana Historical Society going through company documents and photos. He also tracked down former employees and executives, recording their memories of working at Ayres.

His effort recently won first place in the Midwest Regional Interest: Text category of the 23rd annual Midwest Books Awards.

Turchi credits his legal training with helping him write nonfiction. He was meticulous in his research, working to understand the facts so he could give an accurate recounting of the store’s history. Proof of his attention to detail is apparent in the final manuscript’s roughly 1,000 footnotes.

Undoubtedly, Mrs. Fogarty would be proud.

Among the tombstones

Jessica Tucker Ballard loves to know where the bodies are buried.

il-jessica-ballard03-15col.jpg Jessica Tucker Ballard, clerk in the Indiana Court of Appeals, indulges her love of history by visiting cemeteries with her family. (IL Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

As a youngster growing up on the eastside of Indianapolis, the clerk in the Indiana Court of Appeals spent time sleuthing in cemeteries with her mother. She still explores gravesites with her mother, visits family tombstones with her grandmother and is introducing her 4-year-old daughter to the family tradition.

Ballard wants to know who lies beneath the fancy headstones, where they came from and what they did.

She has turned that wonderment into a full-time hobby. Ballard describes herself as an attorney by day and amateur historian by night. She writes blog posts for “Historic Indianapolis.” Currently, she has turned her attention to old advertisements.

Recently, she wrote about an entry from 1823 that advertised the legal services of attorney Obed Foote. The ad specifically states he would not handle any business “under the denomination of pettifogging,” a term used in the past for unethical, dishonest or petty legal business.

“I think that ad for me is absolutely hilarious,” Ballard said. “That’s the law nerd in me coming out.”

Growing up, her family spent time touring the Abraham Lincoln memorial sites around the state and wandering through museums. Researching history gives her the opportunity to learn something new, oftentimes about the places and businesses she became familiar with as a child.

She spends a couple of hours at night researching her subjects online. The discovery sometimes becomes so intriguing she stays up long past her bedtime.

“To me, it doesn’t seem like work or anything,” Ballard said. “That is having fun.”

Under the marquee

Listening to Fort Wayne attorney Stan Hood talk about the history of movies is more enthralling than many of the motion pictures that are shown on the silver screen.

Forget the dazzling starlets and rugged leading men. Hood knows movie theaters.

He can talk about how the 1903 film, “The Great Train Robbery,” was the first successful movie because it told a story where previous motion pictures were clips of moving locomotives or newsreels. Then he will delve into the rise of the nickelodeons, the introduction of popcorn and candy into the theaters, double features and air conditioning.

More than bricks, mortar and celluloid, Hood detailed how important movies were in the decades before television. By studying what happened under the marquee, he said, we can learn about American life in general.

He started researching the history of movie theaters in Fort Wayne in 1997, the 100-year anniversary of the first showing of a motion picture in the city. Initially, Hood would spend a couple of hours at the public library each night after work, but with retirement in 2007, he has accelerated his pace.

Movies and history were staples of Hood’s childhood. Saturday afternoons in the 1940s and 1950s were spent inside the darkened theater. History books were first opened during his slow, boring recovery from chicken pox.

Ever since, history has remained intriguing. Indeed, before he went to law school, Hood taught history at a junior high school for six years. Now with ending credits on his legal career having rolled, he is returning to his roots.

“History has become a very, very nice hobby,” he said.•

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  1. Am I the only one who sees that the City is essentially giving away the MSA site AND giving millions to build new buildings on the site when this site would be the perfect place for the Justice Complex? Across from City-County, check; keeping it centrally located, check, etc. It's my understanding that the GM site must be purchased by the City from Motors Liquidation Company. STOP WASTING WHAT WE ALREADY HAVE AND OUR TAX DOLLARS! The Ballard Administration has not been known for it's common sense...never voted for him and never will!

  2. This guy sounds like the classic molester/manipulator.

  3. 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.

  4. 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

  5. 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.

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