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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. 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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