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Bar Crawl

Bar Crawl is Indiana Lawyer’s new section that will highlight bar association news around the state. We try to include bar association news and trends in our regular stories, but we want to include more news from specialty and county bars. If you’d like to submit an update about your bar association or a photo from an event your bar association has hosted to Indiana Lawyer, or if you have questions about having your bar association news included in the newspaper, please send it to Rebecca Berfanger, rberfanger@ibj.com, along with contact information for any follow up questions at least two weeks in advance of the issue date.

Following a car accident in early June, a St. Joseph County deputy prosecutor’s life was dramatically changed.

Since then, Geoff Spiess said he has been overwhelmed with the amount of support he has received from the legal community, including his employer and the St. Joseph County Bar Association, which helped hold a fundraiser Aug. 8 for Spiess and his family.

That event brought in 400 people and more than $5,000, which he said was in addition to other financial and emotional support the family had already received.

The Mishawaka family – Geoff, a second-career attorney who was admitted to practice law in October 2008, his wife, Jennifer, and their four children – were returning from a vacation in Atlanta, Ga., June 2 when he swerved and the car flipped over when they were driving through Fulton County.

Geoff couldn’t remember what caused the accident, but police on the scene said he was likely swerving to avoid something in the road, according to news reports.

Geoff, Jennifer, and daughter Hayden were air lifted to Fort Wayne from the accident site. The other three children were taken to the hospital by ambulance.

As a result of the accident, Hayden, 15, suffered two broken ankles and a broken left wrist.

“She is out of her casts and is recovering nicely and is doing physical therapy,” Spiess said via e-mail Aug. 12.

Mallory, 12, suffered a cut on her knee that required five stitches but was otherwise fine, he said.

Taft, 8, and Tanner, who has since turned 6, were uninjured.

Geoff broke two fingers and suffered soft tissue damage and lacerations in his left hand that was crushed, he said. His thumb and wrist are still recovering, but he said those injuries have not significantly affected his daily living. He also had a skull fracture and internal bruising that he said, “seems to be healed.”

But Jennifer suffered the most injuries: She broke both of her tibias, both of her fibulas, her pelvis, her tailbone, her humerus, shoulder bones, and nose. She also suffered compression fractures in several vertebrae in her lower back. Her head injury involved bleeding on the brain. She also had numerous lacerations that were stitched and stapled.

Since the accident, a pelvic external fixator and metal pins in one leg have been removed, Geoff said. She also has lost weight and has nerve damage in her right shin and foot.

“But overall her body is recovering slowly but steadily,” he said.

However, he added, “her tailbone is ‘anatomically out of place’ according to doctors, but her original orthopedist and a spinal specialist ruled further surgery too risky.”

Beyond these physical injuries, Geoff said, “our biggest concern is her brain injury. She has had serious short-term memory problems and confusion/dementia, although we have seen encouraging improvement the last week or so.” 

Shortly after the accident, Geoff and Jennifer’s children stayed with Geoff’s brother in Cincinnati and returned home to Mishawaka in mid-July.

Geoff stayed with Jennifer in Fort Wayne for the five weeks she was there after the accident and would visit the children on weekends.

In early July, Jennifer was moved to a rehabilitation facility in Batesville. Since then, Geoff has visited her there every weekend, except the weekend of the fundraiser.

The children saw Jennifer for the first time since the accident the weekend of July 24, and again the next weekend, he said.

“Our next step is to move her to an in-patient rehab facility, hopefully in the South Bend area, or at least closer to home,” Geoff said.

As far as the help he’s received from the community, he said, “my reaction is to be overwhelmed with gratitude. I am amazed at the outpouring of generosity and concern from all corners. In the legal community, I cannot say enough about the St. Joseph County Prosecutor’s Office, where I work. People in the office took up a financial collection right away. People took care of all sorts of details for me. …

“Numerous members of the local bar have made extremely generous financial donations, in addition to contributing at the fundraiser.  And when I see people in court, nearly everyone first asks me how we are doing before delving into whatever business we have.”

He added his boss, St. Joseph County Prosecutor Michael Dvorak, drove to Fort Wayne one Saturday to visit Geoff and Jennifer at the hospital.

He also thanked Tom Walz at Hahn Walz & Knepp for handling the donations and a number of related legal matters for the Spiess family. 

The family has had a Caring Bridge website for friends and family to keep up-to-date on Jennifer’s progress at www.caringbridge.org/visit/spiess. Neighbors of the Spiesses, Kathy Dempsey and her husband, Scott, maintain that site.

Donations are still being accepted for the Spiess Family Fund. They may be sent in care of Tom Walz, Hahn Walz & Knepp Attorneys at Law, 509 W. Washington Ave., South Bend, IN 46601, or by calling (574) 232-5988 for more information.

“I just cannot thank everyone enough for the tremendous outpouring of thoughts and prayers, along with the assistance,” Geoff said. “I am truly humbled and amazed by the generosity. People I have not even met have done very charitable things. I am so very impressed by how selfless so many people have been. I don’t feel I deserve it, but I certainly appreciate it.”•

– Rebecca Berfanger

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  1. This law is troubling in two respects: First, why wasn't the law reviewed "with the intention of getting all the facts surrounding the legislation and its actual impact on the marketplace" BEFORE it was passed and signed? Seems a bit backwards to me (even acknowledging that this is the Indiana state legislature we're talking about. Second, what is it with the laws in this state that seem to create artificial monopolies in various industries? Besides this one, the other law that comes to mind is the legislation that governed the granting of licenses to firms that wanted to set up craft distilleries. The licensing was limited to only those entities that were already in the craft beer brewing business. Republicans in this state talk a big game when it comes to being "business friendly". They're friendly alright . . . to certain businesses.

  2. Gretchen, Asia, Roberto, Tonia, Shannon, Cheri, Nicholas, Sondra, Carey, Laura ... my heart breaks for you, reaching out in a forum in which you are ignored by a professional suffering through both compassion fatigue and the love of filthy lucre. Most if not all of you seek a warm blooded Hoosier attorney unafraid to take on the government and plead that government officials have acted unconstitutionally to try to save a family and/or rescue children in need and/or press individual rights against the Leviathan state. I know an attorney from Kansas who has taken such cases across the country, arguing before half of the federal courts of appeal and presenting cases to the US S.Ct. numerous times seeking cert. Unfortunately, due to his zeal for the constitutional rights of peasants and willingness to confront powerful government bureaucrats seemingly violating the same ... he was denied character and fitness certification to join the Indiana bar, even after he was cleared to sit for, and passed, both the bar exam and ethics exam. And was even admitted to the Indiana federal bar! NOW KNOW THIS .... you will face headwinds and difficulties in locating a zealously motivated Hoosier attorney to face off against powerful government agents who violate the constitution, for those who do so tend to end up as marginalized as Paul Odgen, who was driven from the profession. So beware, many are mere expensive lapdogs, the kind of breed who will gladly take a large retainer, but then fail to press against the status quo and powers that be when told to heel to. It is a common belief among some in Indiana that those attorneys who truly fight the power and rigorously confront corruption often end up, actually or metaphorically, in real life or at least as to their careers, as dead as the late, great Gary Welch. All of that said, I wish you the very best in finding a Hoosier attorney with a fighting spirit to press your rights as far as you can, for you do have rights against government actors, no matter what said actors may tell you otherwise. Attorneys outside the elitist camp are often better fighters that those owing the powers that be for their salaries, corner offices and end of year bonuses. So do not be afraid to retain a green horn or unconnected lawyer, many of them are fine men and woman who are yet untainted by the "unique" Hoosier system.

  3. I am not the John below. He is a journalist and talk show host who knows me through my years working in Kansas government. I did no ask John to post the note below ...

  4. "...not those committed in the heat of an argument." If I ever see a man physically abusing a woman or a child and I'm close enough to intercede I will not ask him why he is abusing her/him. I will give him a split second to cease his attack and put his hands in the air while I call the police. If he continues, I will still call the police but to report, "Man down with a gunshot wound,"instead.

  5. And so the therapeutic state is weaonized. How soon until those with ideologies opposing the elite are disarmed in the name of mental health? If it can start anywhere it can start in the hoosiers' slavishly politically correct capital city.

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