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Lawyer enjoys helping cities and towns

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In-House Counsel

Jodie Woods was the city attorney for Greenwood during a time of rapid growth, working for three different mayors between 1985 and 1998. That experience prepared her for her role as general counsel for the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns, but her upbringing may have played a greater role in grooming her for a career with the IACT.

Woods’ father, Eldon Woods, was the Gibson County treasurer when she was born. He later worked on fiscal matters for the Indiana Department of Correction and the State Board of Accounts. When she was in junior high school, her father earned his law degree.

“I have the political piece in my background, I have the local government service piece in my background, and I was probably always going to be somehow connected with local government,” Woods said. “So it’s not at all surprising that’s the (area of) law I felt most comfortable with after exploring a few others.”

Scope of the job

Woods begins each workday sifting through email messages from staff, elected or appointed officials and others, seeking her input.
 

woods-jodie-15col.jpg Jodie Woods (IL Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

“I do some kind of research on some particular topic in order to either answer a question – and answering is not representing them, it’s more like giving them a direction to go,” Woods said. “Frequently, it’s helping (a city or town) attorney who may not be as familiar with the topic as I am, maybe, because I hear and see so much from my position.”

Woods took the job at IACT in 1998, based in part on encouragement from her friend and colleague Thomas “Buddy” Downs, chair of the municipal finance group at Ice Miller.

“I’ve known Jodie since she was a city attorney of Greenwood. She was very well suited to be a city attorney because she had the ability to mix legal issues with the political issues and bureaucratic issues you have to deal with and to roll with the punches,” Downs said. He said her personality seemed like a good fit for the job, too.

“I think you have to be very flexible, and you have to be personable, and you have to be able to deal with people from the biggest cities to the smallest communities, and she’s very adept at that,” he said.

Woods had been coming to IACT conferences since 1985. She’s learned a lot about municipal law since then, but even with all of her experience, she said she doesn’t have all the answers.

“The municipal law subject area is really quite broad, I think, and trying to even keep a handle on major issues is difficult. You can’t know every nuance of anything – at least I can’t,” she said.

Woods is a registered lobbyist and said she devotes a lot of time to advocacy, both judicial and legislative, although she does not create IACT’s legislative agenda.

“There may be some legislation that I could suggest, or topics I suggest, but mostly my role is not in crafting it, it’s identifying and spotting issues,” she said.

In 2011, many cities and towns wondered how they might be affected by legislation that altered Indiana’s immigration laws. Opinions in Indiana about immigration varied widely, Woods said, depending on the community.

“The immigration issues, we didn’t take a stand for or against, we just tried to explain the impact on local governments. I view my role as just trying to explain based upon my experience in municipal government where I think the impacts will be,” she said. She paused for a moment and added, “And then they tell me if I’m correct or not.”

Special challenges

The 2011 legislative session produced Public Law 152, which leaves handgun regulation to the state, rather than cities and towns. IACT posted a notice on its website, advising cities and towns that if they failed to revise their local ordinances to be in compliance with that law, they could be at risk for lawsuits.

“What I have noticed over the last 30 years of doing this is how much more complicated local government is,” Woods said. “Maybe government all over is more complicated, but certainly in local government, it seems more complicated. Where we used to have definite ways that things could be done, now … sometimes you have choices which people have found very beneficial to running their own local municipality, and now it’s being changed … which creates challenges, I think.”

Woods may turn to her peers for advice, but often, she’s the one people count on when they need guidance. Doug Haney, Carmel city attorney, is one such person.

“She’s a wonderful woman – she’s the person I go to whenever I have a question on municipal law.” Haney said he has worked with Woods for 14 or 15 years with the state organization as well as the International Municipal Lawyers Association.

Life beyond work

Woods is from Fort Branch, Ind., a town of about 2,000 people, about 20 miles north of Evansville. She lives in Johnson County now, but she said her connection to Fort Branch may make her seem more accessible to some of IACT’s smaller city or town members.

“My relatives all came from Fort Branch or Princeton, and I went back there for years and years and years because my grandparents lived to be pretty old, so we would go back and visit, and I’d still have cousins and relatives,” she said. “I still take Mom and Dad back there sometimes, because they still go to high school reunions.”

Woods said she’s always shared her home with pets – currently, two cats.

“One, I inherited from my folks, which is not really true because I gave that cat to them, and I just got it back when they moved into a retirement home,” she said.

Woods and her daughter, a student at Ball State University, share custody of a dog, which spends most of its time in Muncie chewing its way through her daughter’s residence.

Woods is clearly a person who is passionate about her work; in her free time she produces the Indiana Municipal Lawyers Association newsletter, and she enjoys traveling to conferences that help her learn more about her field.

“The International Municipal Lawyers Association – when I go to their conferences, it gives me the boost that I hope our conference gives to our officials,” she said. “They gave me an award for being Outstanding State League Counsel in 2011. And I’m real proud of that – that’s a really neat thing.”•
 

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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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