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Juvenile judge returns from military mission

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Until Marion Superior Judge Marilyn Moores stepped away from the bench and left the United States, the juvenile judge didn’t truly know how much she appreciates this country’s legal system.

It took a year in Afghanistan as part of a special military mission to teach her that lesson. That insight came through teaching Afghans how to put an agricultural infrastructure in place, helping create a public defense system for that country and strengthening the role women lawyers have in shaping that society for the future.

moores-15col.jpg During her military mission to the Khost province in eastern Afghanistan, Marion Superior Judge Marilyn Moores visited a women’s Shura and comforted a little girl with Down syndrome. The judge said it was important to the Afghan women to see how much the U.S. military loved and cared for their children. (Submitted photo)

A 26-year veteran in the Indiana Army National Guard, Moores returned stateside after an 11-month mission that spanned Sept. 2010 to August 2011. Now, while glad to be home and back in the courtroom, she can’t wait for the chance to return to Afghanistan.

“It’s a bigger transition than I thought it would be, because it’s not just about combat and peace – it’s about people,” she said, sitting in her office shirtly after resuming her judicial duties Nov. 14. “The experience was amazing and everything happening there is so important. It really makes you appreciate the rule of law and the fair and balanced judicial system we have here.”

The trip overseas, her first military assignment outside the U.S., was the third of five agribusiness-focused missions aimed at redeveloping the country’s agricultural infrastructure. She and her 10-person team were stationed in the Khost province, a mountainous region located in eastern Afghanistan near the Pakistan border. The task is to teach Afghans about crop production, reforesting and animal husbandry along with developing a 4-H program.

While her military and legal backgrounds set the stage for this mission, the judge’s personal life offered the rest of what she needed in experience on the agricultural front. Moores has expertise in some of the agricultural issues she helped teach in Afghanistan. She and her husband live in a horsing community in southeast Marion County and they’ve raised and maintained several horses through the years. That knowledge was a key to her mission in Afghanistan, Moores said.

The mission’s agricultural and farming focus included book learning and hands-on activity, such as teaching the locals how to graft fruit trees and plant orchards, maintain greenhouses, utilize the local streams and terrain, and grow and store protein.

For example, eggs are viewed as “treasures” in that area because the native population – women particularly – don’t eat enough protein, Moores said. Electricity and cold-storage isn’t widely available, so any meat and protein that’s cultivated doesn’t last.

Moores participated in a project that is helping to establish what’s called the Future Farmers of Afghanistan, modeled after the U.S. program known as the Future Farmers of America. That program is being implemented around Afghanistan and teaches high school students how to make solar food dehydrators, which are used to remove moisture from food to aid in preservation. Those can be built in about four hours, Moores said.

“We not only trying to wrap up a war, we’re rebuilding a nation,” she said.

On the legal front, Moores said two of the most important projects she participated in during her mission involved helping to establish a public system and encouraging female lawyers to advocate about women’s rights.

One initiative brings Afghan women attorneys from another province to talk with the Khost women about their rights – issues such as their right to marry if younger than 16 and how the dowry price belongs to the woman, not her family. Those issues are key economic influences and Moores said that educating the population on those matters can help make women more a part of that country’s future.

As far as attorney representation, Moores explained that with constant regime changes each decade, the Afghan people who are middle aged or older have come to expect a system of bribery and corruption in their justice system. The litigants there don’t want a public defender even if one might be appointed, she said, because they see that as just another person they’d have to pay.

“It’s just starting to tip,” Moores said about the Afghan legal infrastructure. “But it’s about stability, showing them that it will still be there and work once we leave.”

Moores said the experience changed her life, and gave her a new appreciation for what the U.S. system is based on.

“We’re so inappreciative of what we have here. Our court deals with some of the poorest people in the county, but we just don’t know what it’s like to really be living in poverty,” she said. “I might need a slideshow in court of what real poverty looks like.”

moores03-15col.jpg Marion Superior Judge Marilyn Moores took part in a military agribusiness mission to Afghanistan between September 2010 and August 2011. She returned to the juvenile court bench on Nov. 14. (IBJ Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

Being away from the court that she’s presided over since 2005 wasn’t easy, she said. Magistrate Judge Gary Chavers presided in her absence and did everything from keeping court committee meetings going to maintaining a running list of new caselaw that came down while Moores was gone.

“I never had to worry about what was going on here while I was away,” she said. “It’s like they didn’t even miss me at all.”

The judge’s transition back to the American legal community resonates for many judges and attorneys who have returned to their civilian legal responsibilities.

In Morgan County, chief deputy prosecutor Bob Cline, who served in the first agribusiness mission in the same region as Moores, said it took him about a year to fully settle into his civil legal role again and even want to do jury trials again. He recalled walking the scene of a school shooting in Martinsville and having Afghanistan images come to mind as he saw the blood and bandages at the school.

“I’m glad I went, because it made me more appreciative of the rule of law. I’ve been a law abiding and supporting guy for a long time, but once you see a country that doesn’t respect it, you’re more grateful.”

Indiana Justice Steven David echoed those sentiments, and said he had similar experiences during the two times he was called to service at both Fort Gordon in Georgia and then for 20-months representing Guantanamo Bay detainees. He said the emotional and physical challenges of the service itself are difficult on a personal level, but so is the concern about making sure one’s court continues operating efficiently without problems.

“You just want to make sure there’s a smooth process for the lawyers and litigants, and that everything is taken care of while you’re gone and then when you come back,” he said. “Leaving is always harder, but coming back is a struggle, too.”

Moores said she wants to go back in order to continue the work she saw first-hand. Her willingness to return overseas isn’t something she expected before leaving the U.S. When she found out about her assignment and started preparing for the trip in 2009, she thought this would be her swan song for her long military career.

She was a lieutenant colonel at the time, but in January she received a promotion to colonel – a designation that she thinks could open the door for a return to Afghanistan.

“I feel very unresolved and there’s so much more to do there,” Moores said. “I believe in what we’re doing there and I truly believe in the Afghan people, and I want them to succeed so badly.”•

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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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