Moberly breaks barrier on federal bench

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

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.•


Post a comment to this story

We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. I think the cops are doing a great job locking up criminals. The Murder rates in the inner cities are skyrocketing and you think that too any people are being incarcerated. Maybe we need to lock up more of them. We have the ACLU, BLM, NAACP, Civil right Division of the DOJ, the innocent Project etc. We have court system with an appeal process that can go on for years, with attorneys supplied by the government. I'm confused as to how that translates into the idea that the defendants are not being represented properly. Maybe the attorneys need to do more Pro-Bono work

  2. We do not have 10% of our population (which would mean about 32 million) incarcerated. It's closer to 2%.

  3. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  4. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  5. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.