Politics pivotal in legal world

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Some may say law and politics go together like love and marriage, but it’s more than a cliché when looking at how the Indiana legal community is being influenced and even transformed by the political process.

Lawyers and law firms are already seeing change based on what’s played out politically during the past year, while others are eying political possibilities personally or working behind the scenes to shape what’s expected to be a hot upcoming election season.

The change is evident: more political party leaders, elected prosecutors, and judges are moving on while attorneys holding varying ranks inside law firms have an eye for public office or want to influence those elections.

One of the biggest intersections between law and politics in the years ahead will be the race to determine who succeeds Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels in 2012. Questions linger about whether the current governor, an inactive Indiana attorney, will pursue the presidency in two years.

Many eyes are on the state leadership race, which has some big names attached. Retiring U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh, an inactive attorney in Indiana who served as the state’s governor two decades ago, announced recently that he won’t again seek the post, but others remain in the running and the legal community is poised to play an active role.

Melissa Profitt Reese, a partner at Ice Miller and a previous managing partner at the firm, is part of a group laying the groundwork for Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman to run for governon as a Republican candidate–up until Skillman announced Dec. 20 she wouldn’t run. While it is not a part of her day-to-day her law firm duties, Reese is keeping a keen eye on the political process and through her own advocacy has been looking to shape how the ballot is formulated and what options voters have.

That involvement reflects a key point about how important it is for lawyers to play a part in the political process, she said.

“The contributions by the legal community to help create good government either by running for office or contributing behind the scenes is a great service the bar can offer to our communities,” she said, noting that law firms need to take care in how they approach those activities. “Typically it is prudent for a law firm to be balanced in its political activism regarding the various political parties.”

But not everyone who’s impacting the legal community makeup through politics is doing so through a “politically active” role. Some are leaving public office and returning to the law firm or practicing ranks where they started their legal careers.

Brizzi Brizzi

Following the November 2010 general election, the state has seen a number of experienced county prosecutors announce that they will be leaving office soon. One of those is Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi, who didn’t seek a third term. After eight years in elected office, Brizzi said he is planning to create his own “hybrid” practice involving legal analysis, media relations, and reputation management.

His new venture comes on the heels of extensive public scrutiny and criticism in the past year about his decisions involving political and business relationships, as well as his handling of case-specific details being released to the media. The latter led to a pending disciplinary case alleging misconduct for how he released information on two high-profile criminal cases through news releases and press conferences in recent years.

“You have some returning to firms or doing senior prosecuting, but I see this as a unique hybrid kind of law practice,” Brizzi said. “With the evolution of media and social media, I’ve learned a lot and oftentimes you have a potential legal piece along with a separate reputation piece that impacts your practice. Folks don’t manage the reputation piece as well as they should, because at first you are in the crosshairs and so you duck and cover. That may not be the best approach to take, and if you don’t manage the response correctly, it can have even more ramifications.”

Aside from Brizzi, two other long-term prosecuting attorneys leaving office are Vanderburgh County Prosecutor Stan Levco and Delaware County Prosecutor Mark McKinney. Levco lost his re-election bid after 20 years in office and will now serve as a senior prosecutor and teach trial education at Indiana University Maurer School of Law in Bloomington. McKinney was ousted in the primary election and is now going to work with a former deputy prosecutor in Muncie on the criminal defense side.

At the heart of the political process, two lawyers are leaving their Republican Party leadership posts to focus on their legal work.

Tom John, an attorney and lobbyist at Ice Miller in Indianapolis, is stepping down as Marion County Republican Party chair, a position he has held since 2007, citing time challenges of the unpaid position. As the party chair, John has played a key role in the selection of precinct committeemen and the process used to slate county judges for the May primary elections.

The second is Indianapolis attorney J. Murray Clark, a partner at Baker & Daniels who was also a state senator for 11 years. Clark is leaving the state party chairmanship he’s held since early 2006.

clark-j-murray-mug Clark

Those two changes echo what’s happening elsewhere in the state, but also go hand-in-hand with what practicing attorneys are anticipating as the election season shapes up with potential candidates vying for different types of political positions and offices.

Former Indiana Attorney General Karen Freeman-Wilson has her eyes set on the Gary mayoral race next year, and the northern Indiana attorney and former city judge is using her experience implementing the local drug court program to demonstrate her qualifications for that leadership post.

kennedy Kennedy

In Indianapolis, Melina Kennedy is leaving Baker & Daniels this month to kick into full gear her campaign for mayor against first-term incumbent Greg Ballard. This is not the first time she’s pursued political office in the past several years, having gone up against Brizzi for Marion County Prosecutor in 2006. She began her career working for former Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson after law school and served as a deputy mayor during his term, and now she hopes to use that experience to become the city’s top leader.

“I came back to the practice of law that I love so much, but at the end of the day my heart is in public service,” Kennedy said. “I see how much good you can do in city government, and as I’ve had the opportunity to look at ways of getting back into that service, I thought this was a good time for doing that.”

Law students and recent law school graduates have an opportunity to use their legal educations to get started in government work, researching policy issues that fit their interests and possibly serving as a way into those political arenas, Kennedy said. It can be difficult with mounting law school debt, but she feels more should explore those possibilities.

“It’s great to see so many lawyers get involved in the process so actively, but our legal community is just one segment of a bigger political community that everyone’s a part of,” she said. “Studying the law, you can see why so many attorneys are involved: it’s because we have a true understanding of the process, and that means we need to have more involvement if that’s possible.”•


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  1. This new language about a warning has not been discussed at previous meetings. It's not available online. Since it must be made public knowledge before the vote, does anyone know exactly what it says? Further, this proposal was held up for 5 weeks because members Carol and Lucy insisted that all terms used be defined. So now, definitions are unnecessary and have not been inserted? Beyond these requirements, what is the logic behind giving one free pass to discriminators? Is that how laws work - break it once and that's ok? Just don't do it again? Three members of Carmel's council have done just about everything they can think of to prohibit an anti-discrimination ordinance in Carmel, much to Brainard's consternation, I'm told. These three 'want to be so careful' that they have failed to do what at least 13 other communities, including Martinsville, have already done. It's not being careful. It's standing in the way of what 60% of Carmel residents want. It's hurting CArmel in thT businesses have refused to locate because the council has not gotten with the program. And now they want to give discriminatory one free shot to do so. Unacceptable. Once three members leave the council because they lost their races, the Carmel council will have unanimous approval of the ordinance as originally drafted, not with a one free shot to discriminate freebie. That happens in January 2016. Why give a freebie when all we have to do is wait 3 months and get an ordinance with teeth from Day 1? If nothing else, can you please get s copy from Carmel and post it so we can see what else has changed in the proposal?

  2. Here is an interesting 2012 law review article for any who wish to dive deeper into this subject matter: Excerpt: "Judicial interpretation of the ADA has extended public entity liability to licensing agencies in the licensure and certification of attorneys.49 State bar examiners have the authority to conduct fitness investigations for the purpose of determining whether an applicant is a direct threat to the public.50 A “direct threat” is defined as “a significant risk to the health or safety of others that cannot be eliminated by a modification of policies, practices or procedures, or by the provision of auxiliary aids or services as provided by § 35.139.”51 However, bar examiners may not utilize generalizations or stereotypes about the applicant’s disability in concluding that an applicant is a direct threat.52"

  3. We have been on the waiting list since 2009, i was notified almost 4 months ago that we were going to start receiving payments and we still have received nothing. Every time I call I'm told I just have to wait it's in the lawyers hands. Is everyone else still waiting?

  4. I hope you dont mind but to answer my question. What amendment does this case pretain to?

  5. Research by William J Federer Chief Justice John Marshall commented May 9, 1833, on the pamphlet The Relation of Christianity to Civil Government in the United States written by Rev. Jasper Adams, President of the College of Charleston, South Carolina (The Papers of John Marshall, ed. Charles Hobson, Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 2006, p, 278): "Reverend Sir, I am much indebted to you for the copy of your valuable sermon on the relation of Christianity to civil government preached before the convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church in Charleston, on the 13th of February last. I have read it with great attention and advantage. The documents annexed to the sermon certainly go far in sustaining the proposition which it is your purpose to establish. One great object of the colonial charters was avowedly the propagation of the Christian faith. Means have been employed to accomplish this object, and those means have been used by government..." John Marshall continued: "No person, I believe, questions the importance of religion to the happiness of man even during his existence in this world. It has at all times employed his most serious meditation, and had a decided influence on his conduct. The American population is entirely Christian, and with us, Christianity and Religion are identified. It would be strange, indeed, if with such a people, our institutions did not presuppose Christianity, and did not often refer to it, and exhibit relations with it. Legislation on the subject is admitted to require great delicacy, because freedom of conscience and respect for our religion both claim our most serious regard. You have allowed their full influence to both. With very great respect, I am Sir, your Obedt., J. Marshall."