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. Especially I would like to see all the republican voting patriotic good ole boys to stop and understand that the wars they have been volunteering for all along (especially the past decade at least) have not been for God & Jesus etc no far from it unless you think George Washington's face on the US dollar is god (and we know many do). When I saw the movie about Chris Kyle, I thought wow how many Hoosiers are just like this guy, out there taking orders to do the nasty on the designated bad guys, sometimes bleeding and dying, sometimes just serving and coming home to defend a system that really just views them as reliable cannon fodder. Maybe if the Christians of the red states would stop volunteering for the imperial legions and begin collecting welfare instead of working their butts off, there would be a change in attitude from the haughty professorial overlords that tell us when democracy is allowed and when it isn't. To come home from guarding the borders of the sandbox just to hear if they want the government to protect this country's borders then they are racists and bigots. Well maybe the professorial overlords should gird their own loins for war and fight their own battles in the sandbox. We can see what kind of system this really is from lawsuits like this and we can understand who it really serves. NOT US.... I mean what are all you Hoosiers waving the flag for, the right of the president to start wars of aggression to benefit the Saudis, the right of gay marriage, the right for illegal immigrants to invade our country, and the right of the ACLU to sue over displays of Baby Jesus? The right of the 1 percenters to get richer, the right of zombie banks to use taxpayer money to stay out of bankruptcy? The right of Congress to start a pissing match that could end in WWIII in Ukraine? None of that crud benefits us. We should be like the Amish. You don't have to go far from this farcical lawsuit to find the wise ones, they're in the buggies in the streets not far away....

  2. Moreover, we all know that the well heeled ACLU has a litigation strategy of outspending their adversaries. And, with the help of the legal system well trained in secularism, on top of the genuinely and admittedly secular 1st amendment, they have the strategic high ground. Maybe Christians should begin like the Amish to withdraw their services from the state and the public and become themselves a "people who shall dwell alone" and foster their own kind and let the other individuals and money interests fight it out endlessly in court. I mean, if "the people" don't see how little the state serves their interests, putting Mammon first at nearly every turn, then maybe it is time they wake up and smell the coffee. Maybe all the displays of religiosity by American poohbahs on down the decades have been a mask of piety that concealed their own materialistic inclinations. I know a lot of patriotic Christians don't like that notion but I entertain it more and more all the time.

  3. If I were a judge (and I am not just a humble citizen) I would be inclined to make a finding that there was no real controversy and dismiss them. Do we allow a lawsuit every time someone's feelings are hurt now? It's preposterous. The 1st amendment has become a sword in the hands of those who actually want to suppress religious liberty according to their own backers' conception of how it will serve their own private interests. The state has a duty of impartiality to all citizens to spend its judicial resources wisely and flush these idiotic suits over Nativity Scenes down the toilet where they belong... however as Christians we should welcome them as they are the very sort of persecution that separates the sheep from the wolves.

  4. What about the single mothers trying to protect their children from mentally abusive grandparents who hide who they truly are behind mounds and years of medication and have mentally abused their own children to the point of one being in jail and the other was on drugs. What about trying to keep those children from being subjected to the same abuse they were as a child? I can understand in the instance about the parent losing their right and the grandparent having raised the child previously! But not all circumstances grant this being OKAY! some of us parents are trying to protect our children and yes it is our God given right to make those decisions for our children as adults!! This is not just black and white and I will fight every ounce of this to get denied

  5. Mr Smith the theory of Christian persecution in Indiana has been run by the Indiana Supreme Court and soundly rejected there is no such thing according to those who rule over us. it is a thought crime to think otherwise.