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Moberly breaks barrier on federal bench

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Robyn Moberly may be beginning her last act, but it’s also a first.

Moberly is Indiana’s first woman appointed to a federal bankruptcy judgeship. She joins the Southern District bankruptcy bench as one of two new judges appointed since October.

“I was ready for a change. I’d been a state trial judge for 15 years, and I felt like I had one more chapter,” said Moberly, 59. “I have every expectation that I will retire from this court,” she said, then paused. “Not anytime soon.”

IL_Moberly04-15col.jpg Robyn Moberly, accompanied by husband Mike Hebenstreit, takes the oath as a judge on the Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Indiana from Southern District Chief Judge Richard Young. Moberly, who joined the court in November, took the oath during her investiture ceremony March 8 at the Birch Bayh Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Indianapolis. (IL Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

Moberly began a 14-year term on the bankruptcy court in November, replacing Chief Judge Anthony Metz III, who retired. In addition to her time as a Marion Superior judge, she also was a finalist in 2010 for a seat on the Indiana Supreme Court.

Moberly’s formal investiture was March 8. She came to the court two months before former Faegre Baker Daniels LLP partner James M. Carr, who joined the court in January.

Moberly said she looks forward to a time when the selection of a female judge won’t be remarkable. She noted it had been about a dozen years since a judge

had been appointed to the Southern District Bankruptcy Court, and in that time, women including Jane Magnus-Stinson and Tonya Walton Pratt had been appointed to the District Court bench.

“I think there came a time when there was a realization that having just Sarah Evans Barker on the bench wasn’t enough,” Moberly said.

There are now six women jurists in the Southern District, counting magistrates. They get together once a week for lunch in what Moberly described as one of many hallmarks of a collegial court.

Moberly said the judges and staff of the Bankruptcy and District courts nurture a welcoming and helpful environment. “They are extraordinary people, and they’re wonderful to work with,” she said. “There’s a real atmosphere in all the work of the Southern District about doing your best all the time.”

“There is a big pool of talent I’ve drawn from,” she said.

Pat Marshall has served as a law clerk for four bankruptcy judges, including Moberly and her predecessor. Marshall was acquainted with Moberly before her appointment. “I know she would never see this as a distinguishing characteristic, but I’m thrilled that she is the first woman on the bankruptcy court in Indiana,” Marshall said.

“It was very nice to see that the 7th Circuit first of all chose the best person for the job, but it was also very nice that the best person for the job happened to be female.”

Addressing attendees at the ceremony on behalf of Southern District Bankruptcy Chief Judge James Coachys, Judge Basil Lorch III spoke about the historical significance of Moberly’s investiture which, coincidentally, occurred on International Women’s Day. The 7th Circuit selection committee, he said, shattered the proverbial glass ceiling and did so by selecting the best candidate.

Moberly said the biggest adjustment she’s had to make since moving from the Indianapolis City-County Building to the federal courthouse a few blocks away has been dealing with sophisticated technology and a paperless court.

Moberly’s husband, Michael J. Hebenstreit, also works with the court as a Chapter 7 panel trustee who oversees the administration of bankruptcies.

Coachys said Moberly and Carr have gotten up to speed quickly.

“It’s a big change with two new people. We’re a small court – we were four, there’s now five of us” with Frank J. Otte taking senior judge status, Coachys said. “Even though (Moberly and Carr) come from really diverse backgrounds, they’re getting along quite well.

“I think there’s a learning curve no matter what side of the fence you come from,” said Coachys, who, like Moberly, came to the bankruptcy bench after serving as a trial court judge.

carr Carr

Carr, who worked more than 35 years as a bankruptcy litigator, was appointed upon the retirement of Otte.

Carr brings a bankruptcy practice perspective to the bench, as did Lorch. Lorch had been managing partner of a law firm in New Albany before his appointment to the bench almost 20 years ago.

“You can view candidates coming into this job sort of in two ways,” Carr said. “They’re either experienced or have expertise in bankruptcy, and hopefully they’ll learn to become judges, or you can have a judge and hope they learn about bankruptcy.

“Both work, both have been used around the country, and having judges of both backgrounds is a strength for us,” he said.

Carr said Otte has made himself available to help Carr get acclimated. But Carr had familiarity with the bench due to a long association with Lorch. For seven years, the two have instructed a class on Chapter 11 business reorganization at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law in Bloomington. Carr also serves on the law school’s board of visitors.

In his practice, Carr handled complex Chapter 11 bankruptcy filings typically for large clients. The caseload he now presides over has a far different complexion. He estimated personal bankruptcies account for more than 80 percent of the court’s work.

“It’s a very human caseload where individuals who develop financial difficulties are trying to get themselves together financially and move forward,” he said. “I’m happy to do what I can to help out with that.”

Carr had expected a rather steep learning curve. “With the help of folks here who are very capable, professional and experienced in what they do, it’s not been a real difficulty,” he said. “There’s a lot of collegiality, a lot of interaction.”

Carr’s investiture is scheduled for 3 p.m. May 14 at the federal courthouse in Indianapolis.•

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  1. 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)

  2. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  3. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

  4. When I hear 'Juvenile Lawyer' I think of an attorney helping a high school aged kid through the court system for a poor decision; like smashing mailboxes. Thank you for opening up my eyes to the bigger picture of the need for juvenile attorneys. It made me sad, but also fascinated, when it was explained, in the sixth paragraph, that parents making poor decisions (such as drug abuse) can cause situations where children need legal representation and aid from a lawyer.

  5. Some in the Hoosier legal elite consider this prayer recommended by the AG seditious, not to mention the Saint who pledged loyalty to God over King and went to the axe for so doing: "Thomas More, counselor of law and statesman of integrity, merry martyr and most human of saints: Pray that, for the glory of God and in the pursuit of His justice, I may be trustworthy with confidences, keen in study, accurate in analysis, correct in conclusion, able in argument, loyal to clients, honest with all, courteous to adversaries, ever attentive to conscience. Sit with me at my desk and listen with me to my clients' tales. Read with me in my library and stand always beside me so that today I shall not, to win a point, lose my soul. Pray that my family may find in me what yours found in you: friendship and courage, cheerfulness and charity, diligence in duties, counsel in adversity, patience in pain—their good servant, and God's first. Amen."

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