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IndyBar: Interrogatories with Hon. Jane Magnus-Stinson

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By Tyler D. Helmond, Voyles Zahn & Paul PA

magnusstinson mug iba Hon. Jane Magnus-Stinson, Judge, United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana

She is a graduate of Butler University and the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law. She was an associate at Lewis Wagner LLP, counsel to Gov. Evan Bayh, and a Marion Superior Court judge prior to her appointment to the federal bench. She is Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson, and she has been served with interrogatories.

Q What is your philosophy on clerkships? What do you look for when you are hiring a clerk, and what do you hope to give and get in the judge-clerk relationship?

A My philosophy is to hire smart, quick, experienced, diverse people whose company I enjoy. I have been fortunate to find a number of clerks with experience as practicing lawyers, and their insights are invaluable. I have not been on the lawyer side of the bench for over 20 years. My hope is to give support, guidance and friendship and to get support, guidance and friendship.

 

Q You spent 12 years on the Marion Superior Court bench. What was the biggest challenge adapting to the federal bench, first as a magistrate and now as a district court judge?

A After 12 years in major felony court, I felt that I had gained a depth of knowledge after handling thousands of major felony cases. Here the subject matter is so diverse, gaining that sense of depth is impossible. But the diversity of cases is both intellectually challenging and stimulating.

 

Q Who has had the most important influence on your legal writing?

A Justice Ted Boehm is an important influence. Anyone who can work the latin equivalent of “so what” (de minimis no curat lex) into an Indiana Supreme Court opinion deserves emulation. D & M Healthcare v. Kernan, 800 N.E. 2d 898, 900(2003). Seriously, Justice Boehm’s opinions were cogently written and in language that all readers could understand. I strive to write in such clear, plain language.

 

Q What are the most common mistakes you see advocates making today?

A First, let me say that I am delighted to be a judge in the Southern District of Indiana where I think the caliber and civility of advocates ranks quite high.

To answer your question:

1. Improperly pleading federal diversity jurisdiction.

2. Filing motions for summary judgment when it is evident there are fact issues.

 

Q Before your nomination to the federal bench, you were interviewed by officials from the Department of Justice and the Office of White House Counsel. What was that process like?

A The process was, as it should have been, quite rigorous. The people with whom I met were deciding whether the President of the United States should put his name behind my nomination to a constitutional appointment. They asked challenging questions, and called many people here in Indianapolis to check me out. Once President Obama decided I would be nominated, they became staunch allies and defenders. One remains a dear friend.

 

Q How did you choose to attend Butler University after graduating from a high school in the Chicago area? What advice would you give to a parent facing the college selection process today?

A I had one B in high school and my parents were looking for a way to broker my grades into a scholarship. My guidance counselor recommended Butler, which had a generous merit scholarship program. Thanks to Butler I received a full tuition scholarship and a fantastic liberal arts education.

My advice to parents: Follow the money. Seriously, my advice is work with your child’s high school college counselor to develop a short list based on your child’s interests and then hit the highway. The proliferation of information and rankings on the Internet is overwhelming and college visits can provide great insight into the feel of a campus and its students. Then, choose Butler or Indiana University (my two alma maters).

 

Q Where do you get your news?

A The Indianapolis Star, The Indiana Lawyer, The Indianapolis Business Journal, NBC, MSNBC, The Washington Post’s Wonkblog, my husband.

 

Q What’s on your iPod?

A It’s wholly eclectic: start with ABBA and end with Zac Brown Band. A random shuffle came up with: Michael Jackson, Train, Eric Clapton, David Gray, Mumford & Sons, the Police, Karla Bonoff, Bruno Mars and Oasis. My favorite ways to keep current are buying the annual Grammy Nominees CD, and taking the advice of my good friend Commissioner Jeff Marchal who knows good music. Thanks to him I have “Sequestered in Memphis” by The Hold Steady.

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  2. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  3. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  4. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  5. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

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