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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. It really doesn't matter what the law IS, if law enforcement refuses to take reports (or take them seriously), if courts refuse to allow unrepresented parties to speak (especially in Small Claims, which is supposedly "informal"). It doesn't matter what the law IS, if constituents are unable to make effective contact or receive any meaningful response from their representatives. Two of our pets were unnecessarily killed; court records reflect that I "abandoned" them. Not so; when I was denied one of them (and my possessions, which by court order I was supposed to be able to remove), I went directly to the court. And earlier, when I tried to have the DV PO extended (it expired while the subject was on probation for violating it), the court denied any extension. The result? Same problems, less than eight hours after expiration. Ironic that the county sheriff was charged (and later pleaded to) with intimidation, but none of his officers seemed interested or capable of taking such a report from a private citizen. When I learned from one officer what I needed to do, I forwarded audio and transcript of one occurrence and my call to law enforcement (before the statute of limitations expired) to the prosecutor's office. I didn't even receive an acknowledgement. Earlier, I'd gone in to the prosecutor's office and been told that the officer's (written) report didn't match what I said occurred. Since I had the audio, I can only say that I have very little faith in Indiana government or law enforcement.

  2. One can only wonder whether Mr. Kimmel was paid for his work by Mr. Burgh ... or whether that bill fell to the citizens of Indiana, many of whom cannot afford attorneys for important matters. It really doesn't take a judge(s) to know that "pavement" can be considered a deadly weapon. It only takes a brain and some education or thought. I'm glad to see the conviction was upheld although sorry to see that the asphalt could even be considered "an issue".

  3. In response to bryanjbrown: thank you for your comment. I am familiar with Paul Ogden (and applaud his assistance to Shirley Justice) and have read of Gary Welsh's (strange) death (and have visited his blog on many occasions). I am not familiar with you (yet). I lived in Kosciusko county, where the sheriff was just removed after pleading in what seems a very "sweetheart" deal. Unfortunately, something NEEDS to change since the attorneys won't (en masse) stand up for ethics (rather making a show to please the "rules" and apparently the judges). I read that many attorneys are underemployed. Seems wisdom would be to cull the herd and get rid of the rotting apples in practice and on the bench, for everyone's sake as well as justice. I'd like to file an attorney complaint, but I have little faith in anything (other than the most flagrant and obvious) resulting in action. My own belief is that if this was medicine, there'd be maimed and injured all over and the carnage caused by "the profession" would be difficult to hide. One can dream ... meanwhile, back to figuring out to file a pro se "motion to dismiss" as well as another court required paper that Indiana is so fond of providing NO resources for (unlike many other states, who don't automatically assume that citizens involved in the court process are scumbags) so that maybe I can get the family law attorney - whose work left me with no settlement, no possessions and resulted in the death of two pets (etc ad nauseum) - to stop abusing the proceedings supplemental and small claims rules and using it as a vehicle for harassment and apparently, amusement.

  4. Been on social security sense sept 2011 2massive strokes open heart surgery and serious ovarian cancer and a blood clot in my lung all in 14 months. Got a letter in may saying that i didn't qualify and it was in form like i just applied ,called social security she said it don't make sense and you are still geting a check in june and i did ,now i get a check from my part D asking for payment for july because there will be no money for my membership, call my prescription coverage part D and confirmed no check will be there.went to social security they didn't want to answer whats going on just said i should of never been on it .no one knows where this letter came from was California im in virginia and been here sense my strokes and vcu filed for my disability i was in the hospital when they did it .It's like it was a error . My ,mothers social security was being handled in that office in California my sister was dealing with it and it had my social security number because she died last year and this letter came out of the same office and it came at the same time i got the letter for my mother benefits for death and they had the same date of being typed just one was on the mail Saturday and one on Monday. . I think it's a mistake and it should been fixed instead there just getting rid of me .i never got a formal letter saying when i was being tsken off.

  5. Employers should not have racially discriminating mind set. It has huge impact on the society what the big players do or don't do in the industry. Background check is conducted just to verify whether information provided by the prospective employee is correct or not. It doesn't have any direct combination with the rejection of the employees. If there is rejection, there should be something effective and full-proof things on the table that may keep the company or the people associated with it in jeopardy.

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