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IBA: Interrogatories - Candid Q&A with the Bench and Bar

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Elaine Brown Brown

She is a graduate of Indiana University and the Indiana University Maurer School of Law. She practiced at Thom & DeMotte before taking the trial bench in Dubois County. She was appointed to the Indiana Court of Appeals in 2008. She is Judge Elaine Brown, and she has been served with interrogatories.

Q: You began your career as an art teacher at a K-12 school. Which group is more challenging to work with: lawyers or K-12 students?

A: I had not thought of potential parallels between the two before, but there may be some. I found the elementary students sweet, innocent, and honest in their artistic endeavors. I find the law students in my Trial Advocacy class at IU Maurer School of Law bright, mostly innocent, and refreshingly honest about their shortcomings. The same is true of the young lawyers I’ve met through volunteering with the NITA Trial Advocacy course. In junior high art classes I encountered some feisty eighth grade boys; certainly the same could be said of many lawyers in practice a number of years, although not necessarily with a negative implication. The more troubling discipline issues I experienced involved a few high school girls who were mean, manipulative, and deceptive. Seems there are a couple of lawyers out there for whom this same shoe fits. But for the most part, I really liked my students and I really like lawyers.

Q: Speaking of art, what are your feelings on including (relevant) diagrams and pictures in appellate briefs?

A: I think that any demonstrative figure that helps to make a point clearer or more vivid should be used. I’ve seen Justice Breyer use a diagram in one of his concurring opinions, Judge Posner uses them in his opinions, and they have been used to illustrate points in a few of our appellate opinions. As long as they are accurate depictions, I find them helpful.

Q: You’re a Prius driver. In an episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” Larry David, a Prius driver, waves to another Prius driver and becomes upset when the other driver refuses to wave back. Do you wave to other Prius drivers?

A: Only if I know the driver. While I’m all for sustainability and promoting green initiatives, and I am in fact on my second Prius, as ubiquitous as it has become, if I did wave to all Prius drivers it would be a near-constant motion.

Q: If you had to have lunch with one member of the United States Supreme Court, who would it be and why?

A: Chief Justice John Roberts, because of his Indiana ties, his considerate manner, and his conservative judicial philosophy. Actually, my first preference would be to dine with former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. I had the privilege of meeting her at an Appellate Judges Education Institute conference in Scottsdale several years ago and found her approachable, charming, and kind. I appreciate the ground she broke for other women on the Supreme Court and the work she did as an Arizona appellate jurist as well as her online education project, “iCivics,” which was designed to inspire students to actively participate in U.S. democracy.

Q: You spent four years as the junior member of the Indiana Court of Appeals. Were you anxious to pass that title to Judge Pyle?

A: Yes and no. While I prefer to blend in with the rest of the Court and have the “newbie” spotlight on someone else, I appreciated the youthful connotation of being the most recent appointee.

Q: What professor at the IU Maurer School of Law had the biggest impact on you?

A: I really liked Bill Oliver for tax classes and Alex Tanford for Evidence. Both were clearly experts in their fields, and Tanford, in particular, made the subject matter easy to grasp, although it seems one can never be schooled enough in the rules of evidence. I also appreciated Ron Waicukauski’s friendliness and the relaxed atmosphere of his class. He was brilliant but decidedly not arrogant.

Q: You have spent most of your career in southern Indiana. Since your appointment to the Indiana Court of Appeals, what has been your favorite thing about Indianapolis?

A: I have to mention first my position and the people I work with. I have great friendships with some of the judges, and my staff of clerks are incredibly smart lawyers who are also genuinely good people. My administrative assistant is the sweetest, brightest woman I could imagine for the job. Aside from that, I really like downtown Indy. It’s clean, attractive, vibrant, and fun with a multitude of good restaurants and entertainment venues. I also enjoy the Canal area, the Art Museum, and, of course, the Colts.

Q: You decide cases on a broad range of topics. What have been some of the most interesting subjects?

A: Cases that have arisen as a result of changing technologies involving the First Amendment, the media, jurisdictional questions, and discovery issues. I’m also intrigued by cases involving the propriety of summary judgments and the somewhat subjective determination of whether there exist questions of material fact or purely questions of law or mixed questions of law and fact. Confrontation clause issues are also engaging to me.

Q: What is on your iPod?

A: An eclectic mix: Norah Jones, Taylor Swift, Rod Stewart, Lady Gaga, LeeAnn Rimes, Kenny G, Journey, Eric Clapton, Lady Antebellum, Faith Hill, Christina Aguilera, Kenny Chesney, Toby Keith, Jack Jones, Michael Buble, and Tony Bennett, to name a few.•

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  1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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