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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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  1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. 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!!!

  5. 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.

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