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IBA: INTERROGATORIES

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By Tyler D. Helmond, Voyles Zahn & Paul

Hon. James K. Coachys


Chief Judge, United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Indiana

He is a graduate of Butler University and the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law. He practiced law in Johnson County from 1974 until taking the bench there, first as Juvenile Referee in 1987, and then as Superior Court Judge in 1989. He was named to the federal bankruptcy bench in 2000, where he now presides as Chief Judge. He is the Honorable James K. Coachys, and he is the subject of the first ever Interrogatories column–candid questions and answers with some of the most interesting members of the Indiana bench and bar.



You hold court in the Birch Bayh Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse, which is one of the most architecturally significant courthouses in the State. If you had to work in any other courthouse in Indiana which would you choose?

Clearly, our building on East Ohio Street is still a magnificent structure, even at 109 years old. And, as noted in the recent Indiana Lawyer article, the recent improvements to the infrastructure will ensure that it remains one of the jewels in the federal system for years to come. It certainly could never be duplicated today.

I practiced law for a number of years prior to taking the bench, and had the opportunity to try cases in many of the courthouses throughout central and southern Indiana. While probably not being very objective, I believe the courthouse in my own county, Johnson County, is one of the finest at the state level. It was closed in the early 1980s and was completely renovated on the inside, re-opening in 1981. I was extremely fortunate not only to practice in that courthouse, but also to work in it as a judge in one of the superior courts for 12 years.


Q You came to the federal bench from Johnson County. So did Magistrate Judge Ken Foster and District Judge Larry McKinney. What is it about Franklin that seems to produce a disproportionate number of federal judges?

A First of all, I think your list should include Judge Sarah Evans Barker because of her Johnson County ties. Having said that, I’ve been asked this question several times because, for its size, the county does appear to have a disproportionate number of representatives here in the federal courthouse. I don’t think it’s anything in the water and I can’t really come up with a plausible explanation. I just consider myself extremely fortunate to be able to follow in the footsteps of such outstanding jurists.


Q You drive a Saturn. That probably makes you Chief Judge of modest cars on the Southern District bench. Who is runner up?

A It gets great gas mileage. To me, a car gets you from point A to point B. The type of car that does that is just something that isn’t important to me.


Q The bankruptcy bar is on the front line of economic distress. Is the economy improving in your anecdotal experience?

A I believe it is. Individual bankruptcy filings, not only locally but also nationally, have been slowly declining in the past few years. In addition, Chapter 11 business filings have decreased in the Southern District of Indiana since 2010. While these aren’t the only indicators, I do think this is a significant measure of a recovering economy. I am optimistic about the fact that we’re moving in the right direction.


In a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, an individual can choose to “reaffirm” a debt during the proceedings. What is the most unconventional request for reaffirmation you have heard of?

A couple of instances quickly come to mind. The first is a debtor who wanted to reaffirm a $24,000 debt on a car that only had a current market value of $14,000. In addition, he did not have enough disposable income to afford the payments but, when asked how he was going to do so, he replied that he planned to cut down on his expenses by canceling his health insurance! That Reaffirmation Agreement was not approved. The second is a single-parent debtor, working only part-time, who had four young children, and wanted to reaffirm a debt of $7,500 on a full length fur coat which had a fair market value of approximately $2,000. Again, that motion was denied. Go figure.


Your 14 year term as bankruptcy judge ends in two years. What are your plans?

I’m seriously considering retirement. My wife and I have never taken the opportunity to travel very much. Doing so, both here and abroad, would be first on our agenda. We’re also seriously considering relocating to a slightly warmer weather locale. Frankly, though, it’s a hard question to answer. Right now we have unlimited options. Family considerations may help, but we’ve discovered that when you have “unlimited options,” the decision becomes much more difficult.


Judge Anthony Metz recently retired from the court. What will you miss most about him?

I’ll miss all the hard work and outstanding leadership he provided as Chief Bankruptcy Judge. Now I’ve inherited the responsibilities that come with the job. I’ll also miss his quick wit and insightful comments regarding our many discussions of the Bankruptcy Code. We have become good friends over the years and I wish him well in his retirement.


Judges sometimes preside over mock trials based on historical trials. If you had to participate in such an event, what trial would you choose and what two local lawyers would you choose to represent the parties?

I’m tempted to say the murder trial in the movie “My Cousin Vinny.” But I assume you’re looking for an example with more historical significance. The first case that comes to mind is The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes, commonly referred to as the “Scopes Monkey Trial.” The trial is famous for many reasons but perhaps the most significant to us as lawyers is the appearances by the powerful attorneys on both sides. William Jennings Bryan led the prosecution in attempting to banish the theory of evolution from American classrooms. On the other side, defending Mr. Scopes, was the legendary defense attorney, Clarence Darrow. I could envision two of Indianapolis’ most prominent litigators in the starring roles, namely, Greg Garrison portraying William Jennings Bryan, and Jim Voyles as Clarence Darrow. I believe it would make for compelling drama, don’t you?


There has been a proliferation of people and organizations doing cover videos of Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe.” What would it take to get a Southern District version?

A Even after Googling “cover videos of Carly Rae Jepsen’s ‘Call Me Maybe,’” I have no idea how to answer this question. Obviously, it would take someone much younger than me to get “a Southern District version.”


You graduated from Butler University. Are you ready to concede basketball superiority back to IU?

Notwithstanding IU’s No. 1 pre-season ranking, absolutely not! Even though I am also a graduate of Indiana University McKinney School of Law, my hardwood loyalty remains with the almost two years in a row national champion Butler Bulldogs.•

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  1. Applause, applause, applause ..... but, is this duty to serve the constitutional order not much more incumbent upon the State, whose only aim is to be pure and unadulterated justice, than defense counsel, who is also charged with gaining a result for a client? I agree both are responsible, but it seems to me that the government attorneys bear a burden much heavier than defense counsel .... "“I note, much as we did in Mechling v. State, 16 N.E.3d 1015 (Ind. Ct. App. 2014), trans. denied, that the attorneys representing the State and the defendant are both officers of the court and have a responsibility to correct any obvious errors at the time they are committed."

  2. Do I have to hire an attorney to get co-guardianship of my brother? My father has guardianship and my older sister was his co-guardian until this Dec 2014 when she passed and my father was me to go on as the co-guardian, but funds are limit and we need to get this process taken care of quickly as our fathers health isn't the greatest. So please advise me if there is anyway to do this our self or if it requires a lawyer? Thank you

  3. I have been on this program while on parole from 2011-2013. No person should be forced mentally to share private details of their personal life with total strangers. Also giving permission for a mental therapist to report to your parole agent that your not participating in group therapy because you don't have the financial mean to be in the group therapy. I was personally singled out and sent back three times for not having money and also sent back within the six month when you aren't to be sent according to state law. I will work to het this INSOMM's removed from this state. I also had twelve or thirteen parole agents with a fifteen month period. Thanks for your time.

  4. Our nation produces very few jurists of the caliber of Justice DOUGLAS and his peers these days. Here is that great civil libertarian, who recognized government as both a blessing and, when corrupted by ideological interests, a curse: "Once the investigator has only the conscience of government as a guide, the conscience can become ‘ravenous,’ as Cromwell, bent on destroying Thomas More, said in Bolt, A Man For All Seasons (1960), p. 120. The First Amendment mirrors many episodes where men, harried and harassed by government, sought refuge in their conscience, as these lines of Thomas More show: ‘MORE: And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, *575 and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship? ‘CRANMER: So those of us whose names are there are damned, Sir Thomas? ‘MORE: I don't know, Your Grace. I have no window to look into another man's conscience. I condemn no one. ‘CRANMER: Then the matter is capable of question? ‘MORE: Certainly. ‘CRANMER: But that you owe obedience to your King is not capable of question. So weigh a doubt against a certainty—and sign. ‘MORE: Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King's command make it round? And if it is round, will the King's command flatten it? No, I will not sign.’ Id., pp. 132—133. DOUGLAS THEN WROTE: Where government is the Big Brother,11 privacy gives way to surveillance. **909 But our commitment is otherwise. *576 By the First Amendment we have staked our security on freedom to promote a multiplicity of ideas, to associate at will with kindred spirits, and to defy governmental intrusion into these precincts" Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Comm., 372 U.S. 539, 574-76, 83 S. Ct. 889, 908-09, 9 L. Ed. 2d 929 (1963) Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, concurring. I write: Happy Memorial Day to all -- God please bless our fallen who lived and died to preserve constitutional governance in our wonderful series of Republics. And God open the eyes of those government officials who denounce the constitutions of these Republics by arbitrary actions arising out capricious motives.

  5. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

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