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Legal community remembers longtime judge

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On Sept. 17, hundreds of people gathered at the Jackson County Courthouse in Brownstown to celebrate the life of Judge Robert R. Brown, who died Sept. 12. Judge Brown, who was 78, retired as Jackson Circuit judge in 1999 after 28 years on the bench.

In 1999, Judge William Vance was appointed as Jackson Circuit judge. He recalled that his predecessor was known for his outstanding character.

“The one comment that you’ll find more and more is that he really was a gentleman,” Judge Vance said. “He was quiet, he was respectful – I don’t know of any judge who respected litigators and litigants more.”

Indiana Supreme Court Justice Steven David recalled that when he was a young lawyer, he tried his first case in Judge Brown’s court.
 

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“I was prepared but extremely nervous,” Justice David said. “He easily recognized my nervousness and calmed me down. I will never forget that. I appeared before him on several occasions thereafter. I am not sure I ever ‘won’ any of my cases before him, but he was the consummate judge.”

Justice David said that Judge Brown was a mentor to young lawyers.

“When I was elected judge of the Boone Circuit Court, he was one of the first sitting judges to send me a congratulatory note,” Justice David said. “The many, many years that he served the citizens of Jackson County are indicative of the great man that he was.”

Jennings Circuit Judge Jon Webster also recalled Judge Brown’s importance to young lawyers.

“When I began practicing in 1982 and up until I took office in 1987, I tried many cases in front of Judge Brown, and he was always … very patient, and that meant a lot to me,” Judge Webster said. “More importantly, when I took office in 1987, he took me and many other young judges under his wing, treated us as equals, and was always a mentor. He was a very down-to-earth guy.”

After Judge Brown retired from the bench, he served as a senior judge and certified mediator throughout southern Indiana and joined the Seymour law firm of Montgomery Elsner & Pardieck, where he successfully mediated more than 500 cases.

Judge Brown had been president of the Indiana Judges Association, a member of the Indiana Supreme Court Rules Committee, and a hearing officer of the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission. He also served as counsel to the Democratic caucus of the Indiana House of Representatives, where he drafted Indiana’s Horizontal Property Regime (Condominium) law. Judge Brown was the founder of the Jackson County Juvenile Group Home, which since 1979 has provided an alternative to jail or institutionalization for juvenile offenders.

Judge Brown was born in Whiteland and graduated from Franklin College, where he was the president of Sigma Alpha Epsilon. He was a U.S. Army veteran and earned his law degree in 1963 from Indiana University School of Law – Indianapolis.

He formed the Seymour firm of Whitcomb & Brown with Edgar D. Whitcomb, who later became secretary of state, then governor, of Indiana.

In 1965, he was appointed by Gov. Roger Branigin to serve as prosecutor of Jackson County and was elected to that post in 1966, where he served until his election as Circuit judge of Jackson County.

In recognition of his service to Indiana, Judge Brown was named a Sagamore of the Wabash, the state of Indiana’s highest civilian honor, by Govs. Whitcomb, Robert D. Orr, Evan Bayh, and Frank O’Bannon. O’Bannon’s widow, Judy O’Bannon, spoke at Judge Brown’s memorial service.

He is survived by his wife, Donna; brother, William (Sue Ann) Brown, Indianapolis; sister, Sue (Don) Lockmiller, Johnson City, Tenn.; son Jeffery Brown, Seymour; son Douglas (Constance) Brown, Indianapolis; daughter Kristen (Douglas) Bryant, Greenwood; seven grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

Memorial contributions may be made to Jackson County Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) or Brownstown Presbyterian Church through Spurgeon Funeral Home in Brownstown.•

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