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IndyBar: Interrogatories -- Q & A with Jeffrey J. Graham

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By Tyler D. Helmond, Voyles Zahn & Paul

Jeffrey J. Graham, Partner
Taft Stettinius & Hollister
 

graham-jeff.jpg Graham

He is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and the Valparaiso University School of Law. He served as a law clerk to the Honorable S. Hugh Dillin before joining his current practice in bankruptcy and creditor rights at Taft Stettinius & Hollister. He is Jeffrey J. Graham, and he has been served with interrogatories.

Q The bankruptcy world was fixated on Stern v. Marshall when it was released two years ago. For the uninitiated, what is Stern v. Marshall, and where do things stand on that subject?

A Unfortunately, the bankruptcy world is still keenly aware of the unlikely legal legacy of Anna Nicole Smith. Essentially, the case was a turf war between what rights could be determined by an Article I judge created by Congress (i.e., bankruptcy judges) and what is reserved to Article III judges (i.e., district judges) by the Constitution. If an issue is a public right and part of a comprehensive federal scheme, like most bankruptcy matters, then, Article I judges have the ability to rule on those issues. However, if an issue is a private right between two parties, those matters are reserved to Article III judges only and cannot be determined by an Article I judge. We could spill pages of ink getting into the nuances, but that is the general overview. Most jurisdictions have tried to walk this fine line by having the parties consent to the jurisdiction of bankruptcy judges to hear certain matters that might be considered private rights. The Supreme Court has granted certiorari on two decisions and theory will tell us whether the jurisdictional issues raised in Stern v. Marshall can be waived by the consent of the parties or if bankruptcy judges are prohibited from ruling on private right issues even with the consent of the litigants. Or the Supreme Court could throw more jurisdictional headaches at us. I’m pulling for the former.



Q Your first legal work was clerking for Judge S. Hugh Dillin. What is the most important thing you learned from that experience?

A It was such a great experience beginning my career as a newly minted lawyer working for someone like Judge Dillin. When I started he was already on senior status and had cemented his legacy years earlier. Yet he continued to come into work every day and carry a full criminal case load and a half load of civil cases. He certainly didn’t have to at that point of his career, but he did because he loved the law and what he was doing. I have tried to do the same and approach the law as something to practice and enjoy rather than as a source of employment.



Q Were those “the good old days,” and if so, are lawyers on average more nostalgic than non-lawyers?

A I’m not the right person to answer that question as I love history and am fascinated with the past. But I can see how lawyers in general might be more likely to look wistfully at a time without fax machines, computers, smartphones and tablets than non-lawyers. We live in a real-time world, and as service providers we lawyers are required to give answers and advice real time, any time. There is a great deal of appeal to a time when things moved slower and you as a lawyer had the perceived luxury of thinking something through before a client required a response.



Q You have been involved in some of the biggest of the mega-bankruptcies in the Southern District, like ATA Airlines and Lauth, Inc. What is the secret to staying organized when a file consists of hundreds, if not thousands, of documents?

A Magic. Having good staff and co-workers helps a lot, too. Electronic filing is great when you have to do the filing, but the tradeoff is what seems to be an hourly deluge of CM/ECF filing notices. Without help, even the most organized soul would be overwhelmed. Fortunately, I have been blessed with great assistants and partners who help keep track of the large cases. I also keep a suit on the back of my door just in case I need to run across the street to a hearing.



Q In your experience, what percentage of people successfully pronounce Stettinius on the first try?

A Oh my goodness, maybe 25-30 percent? I cannot tell you how many times people will try to say or read my firm’s name and have a sheer look of panic when they try to say or read Stettinius. The second time the person usually just says Taft and calls it a day.



Q What is the most indispensable book on legal writing or advocacy in your collection?

A I am still a big fan of Strunk & White’s “The Elements of Style” and place an unhealthy weight to the Bluebook. But the most indispensable thing really is giving yourself enough time to proofread and trying to eliminate the word “clearly” from legal briefs. If it was really all that clear nobody would be arguing about it in the first place.

 

Q What is on your iPod?

A My friends and those exposed to my work playlist have described it as an eclectic mix of classical, bluegrass, alternative, 80s rock, and whatever else has managed to migrate to my vast archives (is Gregorian chant even a genre?). Lately Jamie N. Commons, Imagine Dragons and the Lumineers have been in the playlist rotation most frequently.



Q There seems to be a temptation in litigation to judge the quality of a lawyer’s work solely in terms of win/loss. How do you get away from that?

A The same debate is going on in baseball right now with regard to a pitcher’s wins and losses. But baseball has metrics like ERA, WHIP, and WAR (what is it good for?) to stir debate. Lawyers have wins and reputation. Wins are much easier to pitch to clients than reputation alone, so hence wins being touted as an indicator of quality. There are merit-based awards like the various Colleges, certifications, A/V rating and awards like Super Lawyer and Best Lawyers which may reflect a lawyer’s reputation, but I’m not sure of their resonance with clients. Personally, there are cases a lawyer should win, some a lawyer should lose, and some that could go either way. A good lawyer wins the ones she should, wins some she should have lost, and wins her fair share of those in the middle.•

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  1. 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!!!

  2. 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.

  3. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

  4. Have been seeing this wonderful physician for a few years and was one of his patients who told him about what we were being told at CVS. Multiple ones. This was a witch hunt and they shold be ashamed of how patients were treated. Most of all, CVS should be ashamed for what they put this physician through. So thankful he fought back. His office is no "pill mill'. He does drug testing multiple times a year and sees patients a minimum of four times a year.

  5. Brian W, I fear I have not been sufficiently entertaining to bring you back. Here is a real laugh track that just might do it. When one is grabbed by the scruff of his worldview and made to choose between his Confession and his profession ... it is a not a hard choice, given the Confession affects eternity. But then comes the hardship in this world. Imagine how often I hear taunts like yours ... "what, you could not even pass character and fitness after they let you sit and pass their bar exam ... dude, there must really be something wrong with you!" Even one of the Bishop's foremost courtiers said that, when explaining why the RCC refused to stand with me. You want entertaining? How about watching your personal economy crash while you have a wife and five kids to clothe and feed. And you can't because you cannot work, because those demanding you cast off your Confession to be allowed into "their" profession have all the control. And you know that they are wrong, dead wrong, and that even the professional code itself allows your Faithful stand, to wit: "A lawyer may refuse to comply with an obligation imposed by law upon a good faith belief that no valid obligation exists. The provisions of Rule 1.2(d) concerning a good faith challenge to the validity, scope, meaning or application of the law apply to challenges of legal regulation of the practice of law." YET YOU ARE A NONPERSON before the BLE, and will not be heard on your rights or their duties to the law -- you are under tyranny, not law. And so they win in this world, you lose, and you lose even your belief in the rule of law, and demoralization joins poverty, and very troubling thoughts impeaching self worth rush in to fill the void where your career once lived. Thoughts you did not think possible. You find yourself a failure ... in your profession, in your support of your family, in the mirror. And there is little to keep hope alive, because tyranny rules so firmly and none, not the church, not the NGO's, none truly give a damn. Not even a new court, who pay such lip service to justice and ancient role models. You want entertainment? Well if you are on the side of the courtiers running the system that has crushed me, as I suspect you are, then Orwell must be a real riot: "There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always — do not forget this, Winston — always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever." I never thought they would win, I always thought that at the end of the day the rule of law would prevail. Yes, the rule of man's law. Instead power prevailed, so many rules broken by the system to break me. It took years, but, finally, the end that Dr Bowman predicted is upon me, the end that she advised the BLE to take to break me. Ironically, that is the one thing in her far left of center report that the BLE (after stamping, in red ink, on Jan 22) is uninterested in, as that the BLE and ADA office that used the federal statute as a sword now refuses to even dialogue on her dire prediction as to my fate. "C'est la vie" Entertaining enough for you, status quo defender?

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