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ITLA focuses on education, legislation, amicus briefs

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As the year comes to a close, the president of the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association said the organization of about 1,000 members will continue its three major goals: to provide educational opportunities, to write amicus briefs when there is a broader issue that can apply to cases and clients of trial attorneys, and to track bills as they are submitted by legislators for the 2011 session of the Indiana Legislature.

President Thomas Doerhman of the Indianapolis firm Doerhman & Chamberlain said these three purposes of ITLA – education, legislation, and submitting amicus briefs – are important to members, which could be why the organization has maintained a steady membership over the last few years. Doerhman is about halfway into a yearlong presidency which ends in May 2011.

doehrman Indianapolis attorney Thomas Doehrman is halfway into his yearlong term as president of the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association. He has been a member for at least 25 years, and said that networking opportunities and CLEs are just two key benefits of membership. (IBJ Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

Doerhman has maintained his membership in the ITLA for at least 25 years, he said, because it is “the only organization in the state that is committed to the civil justice system and to keep the civil justice system open for the common person to use for legal remedies.”

He added that because it is specific to trial attorneys, the organization has been a great way to keep up-to-date on issues that trial lawyers need to know about, including CLEs.

One of the group’s most popular CLEs of the last few years focuses on the resolution of liens at the end of lawsuits. A video replay will be offered Dec. 15 at the ITLA Conference Room, 150 W. Market St., Suite 210, Indianapolis.

“It’s a very specific topic when it comes to Medicaid and Medicare, and ERISA (Employee Retirement Income Security Act) liens,” he said. “The law is complicated in that area and always seems to be in a state of flux. When settling a civil claim with injuries, you need to take into account if other parties who’ve paid medical bills will get any money back.”

ITLA also offers a few year-end CLEs, including the popular “Last Chance Seminar” on Dec. 8, a wrap-up of the major changes in civil and criminal law. ITLA will also host video replay CLEs between Dec. 1 and 21 from 9 a.m. to noon most days. Those CLEs are open to members and non-members. More information on these CLE opportunities is available on ITLA’s website, https://www.indianatriallawyers.org/, which says there will be free popcorn for viewers.

Another way ITLA helps educate its members is by introducing them to other ITLA lawyers so they can learn from each other. Doerhman said the listserv for sustaining members has been helpful for networking, “especially when I’ve needed to find attorneys around the state.”

President-elect John O. Feighner, an attorney with the Fort Wayne firm Haller & Colvin, said the listserv has been the biggest change in the organization since he joined in 1977. He added that he uses it in his practice daily, and he has noticed others using it as a tool to post questions about case law while in a trial or ask for advice on how to make a persuasive closing argument.

john feighner Feighner

Meeting other attorneys on the listserv, Doehrman added, has helped him when seeking advice about appearing in courts around the state in counties where he may be unfamiliar with local rules or the way a judge runs trials in his or her courtroom.

For instance, he said members have shared with each other how judges in their counties handle pre-trial conferences, what judges expect in terms of evidence, how much time judges allow for voir dire, how much time attorneys have in certain courts for opening and closing arguments, and other parts of the process that might vary slightly from court to court due to local rules or the way judges manage their courts.

Feighner added that members of the new lawyers section also have many opportunities to learn from more seasoned attorneys in the organization, something he benefited from when he was first starting out and because his mentor, Sherrill William Colvin, suggested he join.

A second role of the ITLA is to submit amicus briefs for appeals of cases that have issues that could affect plaintiffs in similar cases. All ITLA members are encouraged to share cases with ITLA’s Amicus Committee that they think would deserve clarification in the form of an amicus brief from ITLA. Committee members also try to keep an eye on cases themselves. However, if a case is brought to the committee’s attention early on, there is a better chance that the committee will be able to address the issue and assign a member to write a brief that will meet the filing deadline, Doerhman said. Sometimes when committee members look for cases when they have time, by the time they find one on their own it may be too late to make the filing deadline.

“A lot of common law is refined and defined and expanded and explained at the appellate level,” Doerhman said. “We try to educate members that if they have a case that gets appealed and has an issue that goes beyond the facts, … those cases can have a wide application,” those should be shared with and reviewed by the Amicus Committee.

After the committee decides to submit an amicus brief, an ITLA member will volunteer to write and sign the brief, which is then approved by ITLA before it is submitted to an appellate court, he said.

“This organization is out there looking at the bigger issues,” he said. The amicus briefs ITLA submits can make a positive impact on the civil justice system, and members can be a part of that, he added.

One recent appeal involving an amicus brief submitted by ITLA was an adult wrongful death case, Indiana Patient’s Compensation Fund v. Beverly Brown, et al., No. 49A02-1001-CT-00080. It was transmitted on transfer Nov. 23, the last time the docket was updated before IL deadline.

Doehrman said the issue of interest to ITLA was whether attorney’s fees could be recovered in addition to other fees. If so, he said, plaintiffs could possibly recover more compensation than the current $300,000 cap allows.

Two Court of Appeals panels, including the panel in this case, determined attorney’s fees could be recovered, while another panel said they couldn’t be recovered.

The third goal of ITLA is to follow legislation at the state level that is relevant to trial lawyers. Doehrman and Feighner said it was too early to say what they expect for the 2011 session, but they will keep members informed.

Feighner added that there will be an executive committee retreat in February, where members will plan the legislative strategy based on bills that have been introduced by then. That retreat will also include discussions about board development and membership activities for the group’s 2011-12 schedule.

Feighner, who will become president at next spring’s annual meeting, said he planned to continue enhancements for membership, with a focus on attracting young lawyers and diverse members to the organization.•

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