Indiana legislators pursue legal careers after taking elected office

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brandt-hershman-15col.jpg (Submitted photo)
mike-young-15col.jpg Indiana Sens. Brandt Hershman, R-Buck Creek, (top) and Mike Young, R-Indianapolis, (above) are among a small group of lawmakers who got law degrees after election to the General Assembly. (IL Photo/Olivia Covington)

Imagine: You spend your days within the walls of the Indiana Statehouse, discussing legislation in committee and engaging in passionate and often heated floor debates. At the end of the day, you head a few blocks over to the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law, where your focus shifts from making laws to analyzing the legal precedent already in place.

For a few Indiana legislators, this scenario was their reality when they made the decision to enroll in law school after spending at least a decade in the General Assembly. While most attorneys working as lawmakers had already completed their legal educations before their elections, a handful chose to take the opposite approach.

Among the latter group are Republican Sens. Brandt Hershman and Mike Young, from Buck Creek and Indianapolis, respectively. Hershman was elected to the state Senate in 2000 and earned his law degree in 2013. Young, first elected to the Indiana House of Representatives in 1986 and later to the Senate in 2000, finished law school in 2009.

For Hershman, law school had always been on the horizon, but life took him down a different path early in his career. After initially working as a newspaper reporter, the current majority floor leader sent a letter to President Ronald Reagan’s chief of staff and landed a writing job in the incoming George H.W. Bush administration.

When he returned to Indiana from Washington, D.C., Hershman channeled his political science degree from Purdue into his work on congressional staffs and campaigns. But while he enjoyed the challenges of legislative work, Hershman’s interest in constitutional law that began as a student kept his desire to earn a law degree alive.

“It was just something that struck a chord with me,” Hershman said.

For Young, the decision to go to law school was the direct result of his work in the General Assembly. After being assigned to the Corrections and Criminal Law Committee in 2006, Young realized that he didn’t completely understand all of the legal language found within the bills he was tasked with reviewing. For example, he frequently read bills about common law, yet didn’t understand the common law concept. Additionally, the Latin terms frequently used in legal documents often tripped him up.

“Frankly, I didn’t like that somebody did know something that I didn’t know,” Young said.

He, like Hershman, enrolled in IU McKinney’s night program and began the process of balancing professional, educational, family and legislative responsibilities.

During the fall semesters when the General Assembly is not in session, both legislators said they enrolled in more courses and devoted more of their time to their legal studies, with Hershman even studying abroad on multiple occasions.

But during the spring semester, the task of making time for both their studies and their responsibilities to their constituents — not to mention their families — often made for long days that seemed to drag into longer nights.

“It was a challenge to say the least,” Young said.

For Hershman, the days often began with a drive down to the Indiana Statehouse from his home near Lafayette, followed by evenings spent at the law school and capped off with a late-night drive back north, all to be repeated the very next day.

Like many students, Young said he occasionally fell behind on his law school reading as he tried to juggle his professional, personal and educational responsibilities. He can recall one instance in a tort law class in which he was not caught up on all of the reading, yet in a stroke of luck, his professor asked him to speak on a case he had already finished reviewing, sparing him the embarrassment of not knowing an answer.

But what the senators lacked in time to devote to their studies, they made up for in their legislative expertise. Former Indiana Supreme Court Justice Frank Sullivan Jr., who is now a professor at IU McKinney, taught Hershman in law school and said the legislator’s unique perspective on the law made for more robust classroom discussions.

For example, the first year of law school is often devoted to common law, which most students believe is made by court decisions, Sullivan said. However, statutes also play an important role in developing common law, Sullivan said, and legislators like Hershman and Young naturally recognize that fact.

“His or her entire life is comprised of statutes, and crucially, if there’s ever a conflict between common law and statutes, statutes win,” Sullivan said. “The Legislature has it within its power when it passes a statute to displace any common law to the contrary.”

Both Young and Hershman agreed that their legal educations have rounded out their perceptions of the lawmaking process, with Hershman noting that when he reads judicial decisions regarding Indiana law, he has a better understanding of the rationale behind the decision.

Similarly, Young said he is now able to think more critically when he is reading proposed legislation and analyze the potential judicial impact that legislation could have.

That ability is crucial as fewer attorneys choose to work in the General Assembly, Sullivan said. The Indiana Legislator Database lists 20 attorneys currently in the Legislature.

“Whether you’re for or against a bill, legislators who were lawyers could spot things in advance that just wouldn’t work right and get those things cleaned up,” he said.

When they’re not in the General Assembly crafting Indiana laws, both Young and Hershman find time to practice law.

Young’s work focuses on helping poorer people with a good cause, such as a spouse who can’t afford to pay a lawyer a significant sum to defend him or herself in divorce proceedings.

“These are the type of people who say, ‘I never get a break,’” Young said. “Hopefully with me, they don’t lose as much.”

Hershman serves as general counsel for his wife’s consulting firm and does what he calls legal “odds and ends” on the side.

Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, who also obtained his law degree after being elected to the General Assembly, declined to comment for this story.•


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  1. It really doesn't matter what the law IS, if law enforcement refuses to take reports (or take them seriously), if courts refuse to allow unrepresented parties to speak (especially in Small Claims, which is supposedly "informal"). It doesn't matter what the law IS, if constituents are unable to make effective contact or receive any meaningful response from their representatives. Two of our pets were unnecessarily killed; court records reflect that I "abandoned" them. Not so; when I was denied one of them (and my possessions, which by court order I was supposed to be able to remove), I went directly to the court. And earlier, when I tried to have the DV PO extended (it expired while the subject was on probation for violating it), the court denied any extension. The result? Same problems, less than eight hours after expiration. Ironic that the county sheriff was charged (and later pleaded to) with intimidation, but none of his officers seemed interested or capable of taking such a report from a private citizen. When I learned from one officer what I needed to do, I forwarded audio and transcript of one occurrence and my call to law enforcement (before the statute of limitations expired) to the prosecutor's office. I didn't even receive an acknowledgement. Earlier, I'd gone in to the prosecutor's office and been told that the officer's (written) report didn't match what I said occurred. Since I had the audio, I can only say that I have very little faith in Indiana government or law enforcement.

  2. One can only wonder whether Mr. Kimmel was paid for his work by Mr. Burgh ... or whether that bill fell to the citizens of Indiana, many of whom cannot afford attorneys for important matters. It really doesn't take a judge(s) to know that "pavement" can be considered a deadly weapon. It only takes a brain and some education or thought. I'm glad to see the conviction was upheld although sorry to see that the asphalt could even be considered "an issue".

  3. In response to bryanjbrown: thank you for your comment. I am familiar with Paul Ogden (and applaud his assistance to Shirley Justice) and have read of Gary Welsh's (strange) death (and have visited his blog on many occasions). I am not familiar with you (yet). I lived in Kosciusko county, where the sheriff was just removed after pleading in what seems a very "sweetheart" deal. Unfortunately, something NEEDS to change since the attorneys won't (en masse) stand up for ethics (rather making a show to please the "rules" and apparently the judges). I read that many attorneys are underemployed. Seems wisdom would be to cull the herd and get rid of the rotting apples in practice and on the bench, for everyone's sake as well as justice. I'd like to file an attorney complaint, but I have little faith in anything (other than the most flagrant and obvious) resulting in action. My own belief is that if this was medicine, there'd be maimed and injured all over and the carnage caused by "the profession" would be difficult to hide. One can dream ... meanwhile, back to figuring out to file a pro se "motion to dismiss" as well as another court required paper that Indiana is so fond of providing NO resources for (unlike many other states, who don't automatically assume that citizens involved in the court process are scumbags) so that maybe I can get the family law attorney - whose work left me with no settlement, no possessions and resulted in the death of two pets (etc ad nauseum) - to stop abusing the proceedings supplemental and small claims rules and using it as a vehicle for harassment and apparently, amusement.

  4. Been on social security sense sept 2011 2massive strokes open heart surgery and serious ovarian cancer and a blood clot in my lung all in 14 months. Got a letter in may saying that i didn't qualify and it was in form like i just applied ,called social security she said it don't make sense and you are still geting a check in june and i did ,now i get a check from my part D asking for payment for july because there will be no money for my membership, call my prescription coverage part D and confirmed no check will be there.went to social security they didn't want to answer whats going on just said i should of never been on it .no one knows where this letter came from was California im in virginia and been here sense my strokes and vcu filed for my disability i was in the hospital when they did it .It's like it was a error . My ,mothers social security was being handled in that office in California my sister was dealing with it and it had my social security number because she died last year and this letter came out of the same office and it came at the same time i got the letter for my mother benefits for death and they had the same date of being typed just one was on the mail Saturday and one on Monday. . I think it's a mistake and it should been fixed instead there just getting rid of me .i never got a formal letter saying when i was being tsken off.

  5. Employers should not have racially discriminating mind set. It has huge impact on the society what the big players do or don't do in the industry. Background check is conducted just to verify whether information provided by the prospective employee is correct or not. It doesn't have any direct combination with the rejection of the employees. If there is rejection, there should be something effective and full-proof things on the table that may keep the company or the people associated with it in jeopardy.