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Longtime private practitioner Steve Langer leads ITLA

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Indiana Lawyer Focus

Valparaiso attorney Steven Langer brings to bear more than 30 years of experience as the new president of the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association.

Langer told Indiana Lawyer he hopes to build on the organization’s successes in its 58th year, and he opens up about his expectations for the year ahead and what he tells his two kids who are now in law school.

Q. What are some of your priorities for the coming year?

A. I intend to continue ITLA’s long tradition of focusing on the right of every person to have access to courts and the public policy arena and the right to trial by jury. I think that maintaining open access to courts and the right to trial by jury to address civil disputes guarantees freedom for all of us.

Steve_Langer_2922-1-15col.jpg Cut line goes here. (Photo by Mark Shephard/Shephard Imageworks)

The recent landslide of immunity bills erodes all of our rights to have open access to courts and carves away at our rights to trial by jury. There appears to be a trend among policymakers to treat Hoosiers, especially those who can afford it the least, like ATM machines to pay for the mistakes of special-interest groups.

Q. Tell us a little about yourself, and feel free to add any extremely personal details.

A. I was born in Chicago. At the end of fifth grade, we moved to Valparaiso after my parents purchased a business called Fetla’s. I started working in sixth grade. Fetla’s sold groceries, furniture, clothing, shoes, hardware – pretty much everything. Fetla’s was one of the largest sellers of firearms in the state of Indiana. While working at Fetla’s, I got to hang out with my dad, who taught me about business, and I met tons of people. I still run into former customers today.

We had a pet black bear named Sally that drank Coke from bottles.

My wife, Diana, and I have been married for 26 years. We have two children, Rob and Sara. In our family, the practice of law has been a family endeavor. I have had the strong support of my wife throughout my career.

Q. From what you’ve seen, how would you describe the state of the ITLA?

A. When ITLA started, there were approximately 20 to 30 members. Now the organization has over 1,000 members. ITLA is a very nimble organization. I want to make sure that ITLA continues to be responsive to the needs of its members and maintains its close connections with its membership.

Q. What are the secret perks of being ITLA president? There’s swag, right?

A. Tons of perks. I get to drive “Golf Kart 1” at the annual golf outing primarily because I don’t golf and no one would want to include me in their foursome. Finally, after 12 years of being on the executive committee, I will get to choose where to order lunch. So, it looks like Shapiro’s Delicatessen is going to be delivering food for the next year to the ITLA office.

Q. Let’s say I’m a solo or small-firm lawyer, and times are a little tough. I’m on the fence about becoming an ITLA member. What’s your pitch?

A. We all have tough times. In my view, the challenges that have confronted me have made me a much better and stronger person. ITLA is full of members who have had tough times and challenges. Together, we are over 1,000 members strong, so when there are issues, personal or professional, there is always someone with the experience and the wisdom who can help.

Q. What area of civil law in Indiana is most in need of reform, and how would you change it?

A. My practice focuses on medical malpractice work. So, from my own perspective I think the Medical Malpractice Act is draconian. The damage cap is irrational. The practice of medicine today, which is pretty much run by corporations, follows a business model focusing on profit over patient safety. The hospitals and insurance companies make tons of money yet Hoosiers who suffer serious injuries oftentimes go bankrupt because of medical expenses, then must fall back on Medicaid, also funded by Hoosiers, just to get minimal health care. The folks who caused the harm walk away free while all of us have to pay for their mistakes and choices.

On a broader sense, the onslaught of immunity bills is a real problem for every Hoosier. Special interest groups

hire lobbyists to attempt to lure policymakers to make special carve-outs for their mistakes thereby forcing the victim to pay for the mistakes and choices made by others.

Q. What are some of your proudest achievements in your three decades as an attorney?

A. Having two children in law school. Our son will be a 3L at Kansas next year. Our daughter will be a 1L at IU Bloomington.

I think my proudest achievement is in an area outside of my practice area. My wife and I started the Porter County Reading Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization, from scratch. The purpose of the foundation was to make it possible for all children to develop the skills to read. The foundation provided early-intervention programs for elementary school children in partnership with community schools, continuing professional education workshops to provide educators with information about scientifically based effective methods of teaching reading, and intensive one-on-one summer school programs. The services were provided without charge. The PCRF trained hundreds of teachers and helped thousands of children.

Q. You and your brother, Michael, founded Langer & Langer 30 years ago in Valparaiso. You both were just a few years out of law school. What would you say to young attorneys considering starting their own practices?

A. I would tell the young lawyer that it’s difficult to start a law practice from scratch, but looking back it was easy because when you start from scratch you don’t have clients, your operating expenses are low, and you have minimal costs. Life is simple.

But I also look back and remember how hard it was to start on your own. Life is tough and not always fair, but I think hardship makes one a better lawyer and a better person. I would tell the person not to be fearful of failing because everybody fails and success comes about only after failure. I would say what my grandfather told my dad and what my dad told me: You can’t hit a home run if you don’t swing at a pitch.

Q. You mentioned you’ll have a son and a daughter in law school this fall. What would you say to students who hear a lot these days about why they shouldn’t go to law school?

A. People should be guided by their passion and not limited by artificial barriers. There is always room for good lawyers. I would pass on what I overheard Judge (James) Kirsch saying one day to a group of high school students in Valparaiso: “he has never worked a day in his life,” meaning that in starting a job, whether it’s starting your own practice or working for someone else, just do whatever makes you happy. That’s what I do.

Q. What’s your favorite legal movie, and why?

A. “Hang ’Em High.” Clint Eastwood movies are awesome. Somehow by the end of the movie, justice is always done.

Q. What would you say is a guiding philosophy for you both personally and professionally?

A. Do the best you can every day. Live a productive life. Continually force yourself to try new things that are outside of your comfort zone.•

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  1. Applause, applause, applause ..... but, is this duty to serve the constitutional order not much more incumbent upon the State, whose only aim is to be pure and unadulterated justice, than defense counsel, who is also charged with gaining a result for a client? I agree both are responsible, but it seems to me that the government attorneys bear a burden much heavier than defense counsel .... "“I note, much as we did in Mechling v. State, 16 N.E.3d 1015 (Ind. Ct. App. 2014), trans. denied, that the attorneys representing the State and the defendant are both officers of the court and have a responsibility to correct any obvious errors at the time they are committed."

  2. Do I have to hire an attorney to get co-guardianship of my brother? My father has guardianship and my older sister was his co-guardian until this Dec 2014 when she passed and my father was me to go on as the co-guardian, but funds are limit and we need to get this process taken care of quickly as our fathers health isn't the greatest. So please advise me if there is anyway to do this our self or if it requires a lawyer? Thank you

  3. I have been on this program while on parole from 2011-2013. No person should be forced mentally to share private details of their personal life with total strangers. Also giving permission for a mental therapist to report to your parole agent that your not participating in group therapy because you don't have the financial mean to be in the group therapy. I was personally singled out and sent back three times for not having money and also sent back within the six month when you aren't to be sent according to state law. I will work to het this INSOMM's removed from this state. I also had twelve or thirteen parole agents with a fifteen month period. Thanks for your time.

  4. Our nation produces very few jurists of the caliber of Justice DOUGLAS and his peers these days. Here is that great civil libertarian, who recognized government as both a blessing and, when corrupted by ideological interests, a curse: "Once the investigator has only the conscience of government as a guide, the conscience can become ‘ravenous,’ as Cromwell, bent on destroying Thomas More, said in Bolt, A Man For All Seasons (1960), p. 120. The First Amendment mirrors many episodes where men, harried and harassed by government, sought refuge in their conscience, as these lines of Thomas More show: ‘MORE: And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, *575 and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship? ‘CRANMER: So those of us whose names are there are damned, Sir Thomas? ‘MORE: I don't know, Your Grace. I have no window to look into another man's conscience. I condemn no one. ‘CRANMER: Then the matter is capable of question? ‘MORE: Certainly. ‘CRANMER: But that you owe obedience to your King is not capable of question. So weigh a doubt against a certainty—and sign. ‘MORE: Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King's command make it round? And if it is round, will the King's command flatten it? No, I will not sign.’ Id., pp. 132—133. DOUGLAS THEN WROTE: Where government is the Big Brother,11 privacy gives way to surveillance. **909 But our commitment is otherwise. *576 By the First Amendment we have staked our security on freedom to promote a multiplicity of ideas, to associate at will with kindred spirits, and to defy governmental intrusion into these precincts" Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Comm., 372 U.S. 539, 574-76, 83 S. Ct. 889, 908-09, 9 L. Ed. 2d 929 (1963) Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, concurring. I write: Happy Memorial Day to all -- God please bless our fallen who lived and died to preserve constitutional governance in our wonderful series of Republics. And God open the eyes of those government officials who denounce the constitutions of these Republics by arbitrary actions arising out capricious motives.

  5. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

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