ILNews

Lawyers offer legal expertise in the political arena

Michael W. Hoskins
August 3, 2011
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Lawyers venturing into politics is not a new concept.

But how much influence do those office-seeking or campaign-supporting attorneys and judges have on the political process, and does it really matter if people have a law degree as part of their background?

Current political campaigns involve well-known and highly respected members of the legal community who are flexing their influence, both vying for votes personally and working to have others elected.

Lawyers and judges often say their professional backgrounds prepare them to problem-solve and think on their feet, and their legal minds help them find solutions to questions often confronted in the political arena. The involvement of lawyers or judges can send a message to members of the legal community who might be voting or trying to analyze a particular political race.
 

brooks-susan-mug Brooks

“It’s one thing to have such well-respected people running for office, that’s just their qualifications and you may agree or disagree,” said Indianapolis attorney Bob Hammerle, an active political participant who’s been involved in state, federal, and presidential politics on the Democratic side for years, including hosting rallies at his home. “When you have people with such gravitas involved and campaigning, that lends their credibility to someone who stands out in their own right. That does make a difference to us.”

One of the most recent members of the legal profession to throw her hat into the political ring is current Ivy Tech Community College general counsel and former U.S. attorney for the Southern District Susan W. Brooks. Brooks has announced her entry into the 5th U.S. Congressional District race as a Republican candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives. She’ll face incumbent Dan Burton next year as well as John McGoff, a doctor who has twice ran unsuccessfully against Burton.

Brooks has been with Ivy Tech since September 2007 and at one time oversaw the school’s statewide workforce development strategies. She became general counsel after serving as the Southern District’s top federal prosecutor from 2001 to 2007.

In the late 1990s, Brooks served as deputy mayor of Indianapolis before moving to the government services practice at law firm Ice Miller. The Fort Wayne native began her law career as a criminal defense attorney in both state and federal courts after graduating from Indiana University School of Law – Indianapolis.

Her campaign has some high-profile names attached. The campaign is co-chaired by retired U.S. Magistrate Judge V. Sue Shields, a respected and recognized state appellate and Hamilton County judge, and attorney Murray Clark, a former state senator who most recently chaired the Indiana GOP.

“Susan is the right candidate for Congress at just the right time,” Magistrate Judge Shields said. “She has spent her entire career as a relentless advocate on behalf of Hoosiers in all walks of life, and she will be a strong representative for residents in the 5th Congressional District.”

That Central Indiana political race presents a similar attorney-involvement scenario as a contest in northwest Indiana. Chicago attorney and former Indiana state representative Dan Dumezich from Schererville is active in the campaign for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Indianapolis attorney Bob Grand at Barnes & Thornburg and Dumezich are co-chairing the Romney campaign in this state and in late July held a fundraiser at Dumezich’s home. Minimum $1,000 contributions were required, according to news coverage.

Both attorneys’ names have been associated with politics for years, and Dumezich has been mentioned as a possible contender for Congress or U.S. Senate.

Grand said he sees the representation of lawyers involved in politics higher than many other professions, and it’s important for the legal community to be a part of that process.

“Naturally, you have more lawyers who are politically active just because of what we do in the process of interpreting and applying laws,” Grand said. “I’m not sure if our involvement means anything more to the process or has any more weight ... that might just depend on who the lawyer or judge is. But I know personally, I’ve found it intriguing to be a part of the government process like this to help shape public policy.”

In Indianapolis, attorney Melina Kennedy left law firm Baker & Daniels late last year to kick off her mayoral campaign against first-term incumbent Greg Ballard. If elected, she will return to the office where she began her career as deputy mayor after law school. She said her legal background complements her public service passion perfectly, and she feels it is time to use it for that.

“I see how much good you can do in city government, and as I’ve had the opportunity to look at ways of getting back into that service. I thought this was a good time for doing that,” Kennedy said. She believes it is important for law students and lawyers to be involved in public service efforts, whether that means running for office or working behind the scenes.

“Our legal community is just one segment of a bigger political community that everyone’s a part of,” she said. “Studying the law, you can see why so many attorneys are involved – it’s because we have a true understanding of the process, and that means we need to have more involvement.”•

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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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