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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. It's a big fat black mark against the US that they radicalized a lot of these Afghan jihadis in the 80s to fight the soviets and then when they predictably got around to biting the hand that fed them, the US had to invade their homelands, install a bunch of corrupt drug kingpins and kleptocrats, take these guys and torture the hell out of them. Why for example did the US have to sodomize them? Dubya said "they hate us for our freedoms!" Here, try some of that freedom whether you like it or not!!! Now they got even more reasons to hate us-- lets just keep bombing the crap out of their populations, installing more puppet regimes, arming one faction against another, etc etc etc.... the US is becoming a monster. No wonder they hate us. Here's my modest recommendation. How about we follow "Just War" theory in the future. St Augustine had it right. How about we treat these obvious prisoners of war according to the Geneva convention instead of torturing them in sadistic and perverted ways.

  2. As usual, John is "spot-on." The subtle but poignant points he makes are numerous and warrant reflection by mediators and users. Oh but were it so simple.

  3. ACLU. Way to step up against the police state. I see a lot of things from the ACLU I don't like but this one is a gold star in its column.... instead of fighting it the authorities should apologize and back off.

  4. Duncan, It's called the RIGHT OF ASSOCIATION and in the old days people believed it did apply to contracts and employment. Then along came title vii.....that aside, I believe that I am free to work or not work for whomever I like regardless: I don't need a law to tell me I'm free. The day I really am compelled to ignore all the facts of social reality in my associations and I blithely go along with it, I'll be a slave of the state. That day is not today......... in the meantime this proposed bill would probably be violative of 18 usc sec 1981 that prohibits discrimination in contracts... a law violated regularly because who could ever really expect to enforce it along the millions of contracts made in the marketplace daily? Some of these so-called civil rights laws are unenforceable and unjust Utopian Social Engineering. Forcing people to love each other will never work.

  5. I am the father of a sweet little one-year-old named girl, who happens to have Down Syndrome. To anyone who reads this who may be considering the decision to terminate, please know that your child will absolutely light up your life as my daughter has the lives of everyone around her. There is no part of me that condones abortion of a child on the basis that he/she has or might have Down Syndrome. From an intellectual standpoint, however, I question the enforceability of this potential law. As it stands now, the bill reads in relevant part as follows: "A person may not intentionally perform or attempt to perform an abortion . . . if the person knows that the pregnant woman is seeking the abortion solely because the fetus has been diagnosed with Down syndrome or a potential diagnosis of Down syndrome." It includes similarly worded provisions abortion on "any other disability" or based on sex selection. It goes so far as to make the medical provider at least potentially liable for wrongful death. First, how does a medical provider "know" that "the pregnant woman is seeking the abortion SOLELY" because of anything? What if the woman says she just doesn't want the baby - not because of the diagnosis - she just doesn't want him/her? Further, how can the doctor be liable for wrongful death, when a Child Wrongful Death claim belongs to the parents? Is there any circumstance in which the mother's comparative fault will not exceed the doctor's alleged comparative fault, thereby barring the claim? If the State wants to discourage women from aborting their children because of a Down Syndrome diagnosis, I'm all for that. Purporting to ban it with an unenforceable law, however, is not the way to effectuate this policy.

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