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Muncie attorney is a 'Legendary Lawyer'

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For Delaware Circuit Court Judge Marianne Vorhees, the memory is still vivid.

On one side was her mentor, attorney Frank Gilkison Jr., and on the other side was then-Henry Circuit Judge John Kellam, both arguing over what was and was not law in the state of Indiana.

They were heated and impassioned, going back and forth, voices rising, each insisting his view was right and the other’s was wrong.
 

gilkison-15col.jpg Frank Gilkison Jr. (IL Photo/ Jordan Huffer)

Vorhees, then a young attorney who had just started practicing at Gilkison’s firm, Beasley & Gilkison in Muncie, was stunned by the display, as well as a little scared. What happened next surprised her even more.

After the pair exhausted their fight – the judge won – both shook hands and laughed.

During his more than 60 years as a lawyer, Gilkison gained a reputation as one of the great litigators in Indiana. Gilkison used his trial skills to fight big battles, like those for county welfare workers and beer wholesalers, along with smaller disputes, like a personal injury claim for a woman hurt by falling glass or a farmer seeking restitution for cows made sick by contaminated feed.

Vorhees observed Gilkison’s lawyering skills during the argument with Kellam, but she also saw he was civil and respectful to his opponents. He was tenacious in the courtroom, but once outside he would smile and engage in friendly conversation with opposing counsel.

His professionalism and congeniality, along with his abilities and accomplishments as an attorney, have earned him special recognition from the Indiana legal community.

Gilkison, 87, has been named the 2014 Indiana Bar Foundation Legendary Lawyer. The award honors Hoosier attorneys who have built a legal career of 50 years or more that embodies the highest principles and traditions of the profession.

He is the first recipient of the award from Delaware County.

As others praise his legal work, Gilkison credits his career to the telephone. He was in the office to answer the phone when people needing help called.

One of those calls came in 1972 from the director of the Delaware County Welfare Department. The director was complaining about local welfare workers being paid less than their state counterparts.

Gilkison met with the director and then traveled to Indianapolis to talk to other county welfare workers. By the end of those conversations, he said, it was clear to him that the state had violated the law.

He represented the county workers all the way to the Indiana Court of Appeals in State of Indiana v. King, 413 N.E. 2d 1016 (Ind. Ct. App. 1980). Gilkison successfully argued the salary schedule for the local welfare employees was separate and unequal to the schedule for state employees and, therefore, violated the State Personnel Act and Indiana Personnel Board Rule 4-2.gilikson-facts.jpg
A key hurdle in the class action was calculating the amount of back pay the welfare workers were owed. Throughout the litigation, the attorneys never knew the exact amount of money involved because, in those days before computers, even formulating an estimate was difficult.

The Indiana attorney general, at one point, called Gilkison and his co-counsel to a meeting in Indianapolis and presented its estimate that the state was liable for $30 million.

However, the attorney general never made a settlement offer. Instead, Gilkison called upon a Columbus company that had the computers to figure out the money owed. The final figure to compensate the thousands of employees who had been underpaid during a 15-year period was set at $18 million.

Gilkison believes that may have been his biggest case in terms of money, but his other cases were just as hard fought. There were times when he was surprised he won a particular case, he recalls, and other times he was surprised that he lost.

Always, colleagues said, Gilkison was prepared.

Attorney Robert Beasley, son of Gilkison’s law partner John Beasley, worked at the firm for 11 years. He described Gilkison as a student of the law and, when working on a case, he would identify the issue then very thoroughly research the matter. In court, Gilkison used this preparation to be a great advocate for his clients.

Those advocacy skills helped Gilkison win a case for a woman who suffered a long-term disability when a 14-foot wall of glassware in a retail store gave way and fell on her. After two years, the glass company agreed to settle for $14,000, but by that time Gilkison’s client was not interested.

Unsure how sympathetic a jury would be, Gilkison got testimony from doctors who described the woman’s continuing medical ailments and from her friends who talked about the woman’s inability to enjoy her favorite activities.

The jury returned a verdict for the woman for $107,000.

Outside the courtroom, Gilkison is just as competitive. Beasley recalled times he and his brothers would be playing basketball in their backyard and Gilkison, having come to his parents’ house for a cocktail party, would shed his sport coat and join the game.

Gilkison grew up in southwestern Indiana in Daviess County where he played on the high school basketball team and listened to his father’s stories from his law practice. His father, Frank Gilkison Sr., former justice on the Indiana Supreme Court, told his son the key to becoming a great trial lawyer was watching other attorneys in court and trying cases himself.

Since being admitted to the bar in 1950, Gilkison has honed his litigation techniques and, perhaps unknowingly, set an example for other attorneys to follow.

Judi Calhoun, chief deputy prosecutor in Delaware County and the president of Indiana Bar Foundation’s board of directors, never encountered Gilkison in the courtroom but she quickly learned of his reputation. She called him a classic, gentleman lawyer who is respectful to other attorneys, nice to clients and witnesses, and always professional.

Knowing the influence Gilkison has had, Calhoun nominated him for the legendary lawyer award. She highlighted his cases as well as his friendly demeanor that, she said, is often missing among today’s attorneys.

Fittingly, she notified Gilkison of his award with a phone call. The elder attorney, as he had been through much of his career, was near the telephone when it rang.

The award came as a surprise and has Gilkison feeling deeply honored. At the upcoming bar foundation reception, he plans to talk about some of the phone calls he received, the cases he handled and how being named a legendary lawyer is a great capstone to his career.•

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  1. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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