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While some couples prefer to keep their work and personal lives separate, it’s not unheard of for lawyers to pair up. Four couples shared their stories with Indiana Lawyer.

Heather and Sebastian

J. Sebastian Smelko, associate legal counsel and gaming and public safety advisor to Gov. Mitch Daniels, met Heather James, an associate in Ice Miller’s municipal finance group, on their third day at Valparaiso University School of Law in August 2005.

After they graduated from law school in December 2007, they moved to Indianapolis. They were engaged June 5, 2009, and married June 26, 2010.
 

il-legalcouples04-15col J. Sebastian Smelko, associate legal counsel to Gov. Mitch Daniels, met Heather James, an associate at Ice Miller, on their third day of law school in August 2005. They were married in Rome, pictured above, June 26, 2010. (IL Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

While in law school, Smelko recalled, he and James would often be the only two doing legal research in the library on Friday nights. They still sometimes talk about work, but they are careful not to betray the confidences of their clients.

“We can communicate with each other in ways a lawyer and non-lawyer can’t,” Smelko said. “It’s not just, ‘I had a hard day,’ but ‘here’s why I had a hard day.’”

Because they’re both busy, they also make an effort to spend time together. The two walk to work together, and they will schedule dinners. “I send him calendar invites,” James said.

Craig and Diane

Craig Burke, a partner at Ice Miller, met Diane Cruz-Burke, assistant general counsel at Eli Lilly, on a bus to Chicago when they were undergraduate students at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business.

Both graduated from business school in 1988. Cruz-Burke went to Harvard Law School immediately after graduating from IU, and Burke got a job in Boston. They were married in 1989, and Cruz-Burke finished law school in 1991.

Burke said he never intended to go to law school, but after seeing the experience his future wife was having, including the issues she debated in class, he changed his mind.

Because their first child was born during spring break of Cruz-Burke’s second year of law school, Burke considered schools closer to their home state of Indiana. Cruz-Burke passed the Indiana bar in 1991 and worked in Indianapolis, and Burke attended Indiana University Maurer School of Law and graduated in 1994.


il-legalcouples02-15col Craig Burke, a partner at Ice Miller, and Diane Cruz-Burke, assistant general counsel at Eli Lilly, met on a bus to Chicago when they were undergraduate students at Indiana University. They were married in 1989. (IL Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

While they rarely talk about work at home, they sometimes impart their legal-thinking skills on their children. For instance, they may ask their children, now ages 20, 14, and 10, to make their case about why they should be able to do something they want to do.

The couple’s 20-year-old, a business student at IU, is now considering law school, but Cruz-Burke said she has suggested to her daughter that she wait a few years after receiving her bachelor’s degree, something the Lilly lawyer sometimes wishes she had done so she could have either traveled or done something else between finishing her undergrad degree and starting law school.

Both said they work together to come up with “win-win” situations. When Cruz-Burke went to Austria for work, Burke agreed to go with her even though it had an impact on his work at the time.

“But I was the best ERISA lawyer in all of Vienna,” he quipped about his experience with the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.

Rebecca and James

Rebecca and James Balanoff are the only two attorneys at the firm they started in the 1980s, Balanoff & Balanoff, with offices in Munster, Merrillville, and Chicago.

They met at a New Year’s Eve party at Rebecca’s parents’ house when James was in law school at IU Maurer School of Law and Rebecca was a junior at the University of Chicago.

James graduated from law school in 1977, and followed Rebecca to Washington, D.C., where she attended George Washington University Law Center, and he worked for the Joint Committee on Congressional Operations. The two moved back to the Chicago area for Rebecca to finish her legal education at the University of Chicago.

When they first started working as a small firm, James worked as a part-time deputy prosecutor for a time and while their children, now ages 28, 25, and 19, were young, Rebecca took time away from her legal career or worked part time in their office balancing the roles of mother and lawyer.

Starting out, they’d take just about any case that walked in the door, but now most of their work is focused on Social Security disability.

The toughest thing has been planning vacations because there are only two of them, and when they do take a vacation, it’s usually together. If they’re visiting their kids, who now all live in Colorado, they’ll stagger it so one will get there a day or two earlier and the other will leave a day or two later.

The advent of electronic communication has also proven helpful for staying in touch with clients when they are on vacation, they said, even though it means they don’t always get a true break from the office.

Rob and Cathy

Rob Wiederstein and Cathy Nestrick have a different dynamic. Nestrick is an attorney at Bamberger Foreman Oswald & Hahn in Evansville, and Wiederstein is a district judge in Henderson, Ky.

The two met at Hanover College and married a week before they began classes at Indiana University School of Law – Indianapolis. Nestrick said they consider their three years in law school “our honeymoon.”

“I definitely think that our marriage during law school was easier because we were both law students,” she said. “We saw many law students divorce while in school, and I often thought it was due to the stress of the program. It helped that we went through that stress together.”

Like other couples interviewed, Nestrick said even though both are lawyers, the two aren’t competitive with each other.

“While our markets do overlap, my base is in Indiana and his is in Kentucky,” she said. She added that she also wouldn’t appear before him in court, but if a client she represented was ever to appear in his court, he’d recuse himself.

Like the other couples, she also said because they’re both lawyers, they do talk about legal issues.

“It is helpful to have someone to use as a sounding board. As you know, the law is rarely black and white, and finding the ‘right gray’ can be tricky,” she said.

As for applying legal lessons with their children, now ages 11 and 13, “We have had our kids (and their friend in one instance) sign ‘contracts’ to reinforce the importance of promises. I also tend to demand ‘evidence’ that a particular event occurred as described,” she said.

All four couples said that their shared legal backgrounds have helped strengthen their marriages. They also agree that at the end of the day, it’s nice to come home to – or drive home or walk to work with – someone who can understand what they’re going through, whether they talk about it often or not.•

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  • more lawyer couples
    Vijayalaxmi my wife, and me are one among the several lawyer couples in Kerala, South India.
  • nice story
    I liked this story. Lawyer families are a tradition in Indiana. The Tucker law firm in Paoli and the Steele law frim in Bedford asr just two family firms. And, there are a number of lawyers who are married to lawyers and whose children are now law school grads. Mary Lee Comer and Lee Comer are lovely example couple in Danville.

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  1. Am I the only one who sees that the City is essentially giving away the MSA site AND giving millions to build new buildings on the site when this site would be the perfect place for the Justice Complex? Across from City-County, check; keeping it centrally located, check, etc. It's my understanding that the GM site must be purchased by the City from Motors Liquidation Company. STOP WASTING WHAT WE ALREADY HAVE AND OUR TAX DOLLARS! The Ballard Administration has not been known for it's common sense...never voted for him and never will!

  2. This guy sounds like the classic molester/manipulator.

  3. Louis D. Brandeis was born in 1856. At 9 years of age it would have been 1865. The Brandeis family did not own slaves. My source Louis D. Brandeis: A Life, by Melvin L. Urofsky.

  4. My name is Matthew Lucas Major, I recently went through a jury trial in Bloomington , In. It was the week of Feb 19-21. Although I have been incarcerated since August 5, 2014. The reason I 'am writing to you sir is on the 21 of February the jury came in with a very excessive and wrongful verdict of guilty on 6 child molesting charges against my daughter who was 9 at the time I was accused. I also had 2 other Felonies one of Intimidation and 1 of Sexual Vicarious Gratification. Judge Marc Kellam on the second day of trial gave me a not guilty on those 2 felonies. The jury was sent out during that time and when brought back Judge Kellam told them to not concern themselves with the 2 Felonies that he ruled on them. They were told to not let evidence they had already heard influence there verdicts. I never in my life touched any child sexually and definitely not with my own daughter. When I was arrested Detective Shawn Karr told me I would be convicted guilty just on my daughters word even without evidence. That's just what happened. my public defender did me so wrong he never once proved to the court and jury all the lies the child told, and Jeremy Noel my public defender could of proven the lies easily. The stories in Serenity's depositions and Forensic interview changed and were not consistent as Prosecutor Darcie Fawcett claimed they were. Yet my attorney never mentioned that. The facts that the child accused me of full penetration in her vagina and rectum was proven lies. Doctor Roberta Hibbard of Riley hospital in Indianapolis confirmed Serenity's hymen intact, no scars, no tearing, no signs of rape to her. Yet my attorney didn't use that knowledge . the DNA was all in my favor. I tell you I will spend my entire life in prison going through rape and beatings etc. even Judge Kellam abused his authority by telling the jurors to listen and believe what the prosecutors side in evidence like my daughters testimony. In one interview with the detectives my daughter got flustered with her mom and said on camera " I'm saying what you told me to mom"!! Yet Mr. Noel said nor did anything to even resemble a defense attorney. Judge Kellam allowed edited version of a taped conversation between the child and her mother. Also Judge Kellam allowed the Prosecutor too bring in to my case a knife found under my seat, the knife wasn't part of my case. She was allowed by my attorney and the judge to put a huge picture of it on the screen and huge picture of my naked privates in a full courtroom and open court. Ms. Fawcett says to jury see how easy Mr. Major could reach the knife and cut his Childs throat. Even though I had no weapons charge against these cases. This gave the jurors prejudice thought against me thinking I threatened her with that knife and how scared she would of been knowing i could get it and kill her. On my sentencing court March 19, 2014 my public defender told Judge Kellam he wish to resign from being my attorney and wished for the court to give me outside council to file a error to trial or appeal. We were denied. Now after openly knowing my public defender don't want to represent me he has to. Well when as parents we make our kids clean a room when they really don't wish to, well the child will but don't mean she will do a good job, that's where I'm at with Mr. Noel. please dont ignore mine and my families pleas for your help . we have all the legal proof you could need to prove Im innocent. Please dont make my spend years in prison innocent when you can fix this wrong. Im not saying Im a perfect man or that I was a perfect dad to my 2 children none of us are. Ive made some bad choices in life and I paid for them. But I didnt ever touch or rape my daughter . I love my children with all my heart. And now through needing attention and a ex-wife who told my granny several times she wish she could put me in prison to get me out of their lives. Well my ex finally accomplished her goal. Sad part is she is destroying our daughter with all this horrific lies and things she taught my daughter to say. My daughter will need therapist to ever hope for a chance of a normal life after what she had done to her by her mom and their side of the family. My daughter told everyone even on stand she had a dream months before i supposedly molested her in this dream I was molesting her and when I finally did it matched her dream perfectly. She admitted to watching movies about little girls being molested and watching U-Tube videos about child molesting all before it happened supposedly to her. Doesn't that sound very unusual that a non molested 9 yr old would need to know so much about being molested? The only reason I could think a 9 year old would need so much information is to be prepared to know what to say and be able to say how it felt what took place etc.. So when questioned by authorities she would be prepared. And there again sir if a parent is pre grooming a 9 year old child she would need intimate details . Like telling her daughter about a couple moles on my private area. The child admitted to sneaking my cell and looking many many times at nudes of me and my girlfriend even one where my penis was entering my girlfriends vagina. In that picture my moles are obvious. Yet when prosecutor showed everyone in court my privates and pictures of the moles she said the only way the child would know about them is if she saw them for herself. My attorney once again said nothing about the pictures my child saw. Or could a ex-wife be able to describe my moles to help her case against getting rid of me? I beg you help me. This is my very existence. Ive lost everything , a good job, a wonderful girlfriend, my freedom, but worse thing Ive lost is my children. They were my reason to get up every morning and strive to be better. The wonderful bond I had with my Serenity is gone. After this I would be afraid to even hug her for fear of what next can they do to me. I'm not afraid to tell you I sit here in this cell and try to hold back my tears. Everyone knows you cant show weakness in prison. My life has already been threatened here at Wabash Valley Prison. After only 3 days of arrival. I was tricked into signing a waiver now Im in G Block General Population with 6 child molesting felony charges. Mrs. Hart as a 18 year old I almost died hooked to machines in hospital almost 1 month and now I know that fear was childish compared to this . I cant help but put emotions in this, after all Mrs. Hart Im human and God help Me I never been more afraid in my life. I didnt hurt my little girl I didnt touch her sexually. As much as it shreds me and fills my mind what Im facing I worry more about my mom and granny because of their great love for me mam they are suffering so deeply. I aint done this things but my loved ones suffering right along beside me and If you take my case you will be in essence freeing them also. I sent momma this letter and asked her to email it to you. I'm scared I have been done so unjustly by our legal system and I need you to fix this and give me freedom. I ask you please don't just ignore my pleas. Here in America its nice to be able to trust our legal justice system, well they destroyed my and my loved ones trust in our justice system . And I'm trusting in You !!! My entire family is suffering this nightmare with me. My 77 year old granny had a stroke and isn't doing so well. My single mother that raised 3 kids alone is dying from Lupus and since my arrest has stayed so sick and weary. Our lives torn to peices by a government I was taught I could trust in. my momma has tried so many innocent project and wrongfully accused and cant get anywhere. please please help me. A quote from the late Nelson Mandela: To be free is not merely to cast off ones chains, But to live in a way that respects and enhances The Freedom Of Others. I have Faith in you and your clinic to cast my chains off and give me freedom I do deserve as a wrongfully accused Man, son, brother, father, friend. Matthew Major DOC# 246179 Cause # : 53c02-1308-FA-000779 God Bless you. Please contact me with your decision so I know you made a life changing decision for me , just please at least write me so I know you care enough about your citizens to respond to cries for your help. You can speak openly with my mother Charlotte Spain (828) 476-0406: 71 Lakeview Dr. Canton, NC 28716 Thank You Matthew Major I know yall get thousands of request and inmates claiming innocence, and each person who are innocent deserve to have organizations like yours willing to fight for them and I give yall so much Thanks and I thank God everyday yall are out there caring enough to help free the innocents. Since discovering firsthand how easily lives and families can be destroyed by Poor Defense attorneys not doing their job . And Prosecutors allowed to do as they please in court

  5. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

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