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Senior status not likely to slow Judge Barker

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Attorneys and judges alike say whenever Judge Sarah Evans Barker is on the bench, there is no question who is in charge in that courtroom. This is a judge they universally describe as well-prepared, well-organized and authoritative, but not averse to occasionally introducing a little humor in the proceedings.

It is not surprising that when Barker, U.S. District judge for the Southern District of Indiana, announced her plans to take senior status June 30, many in the legal community caught their breath. Then they learned that she will be continuing to work at full bore until a successor is appointed, and only at that time will she cut her caseload slightly.
 

barker-sarahevans0414-1col.jpg District Court Judge Sarah Evans Barker hopes to have more time to spend with her grandchildren as she transitions to senior status. (IL Photo/ Marilyn Odendahl)

Upon hearing of Barker’s intentions, Ronald Elberger, her law school classmate and former Bose McKinney & Evans colleague, smiled.

“It means she is still going to be in the federal court, which is good news,” he said.

Thirty years ago, Barker was tapped for the federal bench. She was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in 1984, becoming the first woman to serve as a District Court judge in Indiana.

Even before she put on a judicial robe, Barker had been kicking at the glass ceiling. In 1972, she was the first female hired as assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Indiana. Nine years later, she was appointed U.S. attorney, then being just one of two women to serve in that position.
 

elberger-ron-mug Elberger

Barker said she knew that serving as a federal judge would be challenging and take all the talent she had, but it would also be interesting and rewarding.

“You have an extended reach as a judge into our society to affect the relationship and the course of events and the interpretation of law,” Barker said. “So you do that with a modesty, you do that within the parameters of your role and with a sense that your part is only to give things a little nudge, not to be preemptive in terms of reorganizing people’s lives and affairs.”

Along the way, Barker always took time to mentor and help attorneys build their careers. She played matchmaker, pointing lawyers to opportunities both in the profession as well as in the community.

Sam Laurin, partner at Bose, faced Barker two times as a young attorney, barely six years into his practice. One day, he asked if the court could end session early so he could go home for his daughter’s birthday. Barker readily obliged, and then they spent a few minutes off the record talking about their children.

sarah-evans-barker-factbox

laurin Laurin

Laurin knew to be prepared when going to Barker’s court and to never be late, a lesson he learned when opposing counsel arrived after the appointed hour.

“The trains are going to run on time in her court, but there is time for occasional levity as well,” Laurin said.

The Southern District of Indiana is one of the busiest District courts in the country and that, Barker said, is one of her primary motivators for her decision to transition at this time – an additional judge will bring relief to the docket. Once she becomes a senior judge, a vacancy will open on the five-member court and once a new judge is appointed, she will cut her caseload to 80 percent. Her reduced caseload, combined with Senior Judge Larry McKinney’s caseload, will essentially add a sixth judge to the Southern District.

“For me, part of the fun has been to come in every day and see what arrives in my inbox and then to see if I am up to the challenges it presents,” Barker said. “I’ll just keep doing it that way.”

Three decades has filled her docket with a wealth of cases, but she does not want to choose which was more special, comparing it to asking a mother to choose her favorite child. Every case deserved her careful attention and best effort, she said.

When rendering an opinion, Barker maintained the judge has the role and responsibility to stay limited to the legal question being presented by the case.

She pointed to her decision in the complaint over the state’s voter ID law, eventually upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, as an example. There, she said, she addressed the ID law as it was argued and on the basis of the facts and law as presented found the statute to be constitutional. She emphasized she did not rule on the wisdom of the voter law, nor did she tell the Legislature what she thought the state should do.

“That sort of captures my sense of what a judge does,” Barker said. “You decide the case before you, you don’t decide wider issues.”

Likewise, in deciding Buquer v. City of Indianapolis, City of Franklin, Johnson County, 1:11-cv-0708, she found the state’s immigration law to run afoul of the Fourth Amendment.

The judge’s role, Barker continued, is to render a decision on the case presented. From the bench, the judicial officer should look at the parties, look at the mechanics of the case as to whether it was brought in the proper venue at the right time, and are the right issues being raised when attacking the statute.

One of the cases that solidified Barker’s judicial reputation was the Bridgestone/Firestone Tire Products multidistrict litigation that involved more than 800 lawsuits from all over the United States and overseas. The case was assigned to Barker in 2000 and took a decade to resolve with the first four years being the busiest.

To help with the massive litigation, Barker called upon U.S. Magistrate Judge V. Sue Shields and appointed Debra McVicker Lynch, now a magistrate judge with the Southern District, to the special master position.


debbie lynch Lynch

Lynch had developed an interest in being a judge during the two years she served as Barker’s first female law clerk. She has no doubt Barker had her in mind when she asked the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation for a special master.

“I think what’s really important that doesn’t get out often enough about her is that she didn’t strive to be the first, she strived to be one of many women,” Lynch said of Barker. “I really think it’s important to be said that she was not just the first but she always tried to be one of many, many women in leadership positions.”

At the first pretrial conference of the Bridgestone/Firestone litigation, Barker’s courtroom was a sea of mostly male lawyers dressed in black and gray suits. Lynch remembers entering with Barker and Shields – three women in charge of a major case that involved numerous issues and countless plaintiffs.

Barker and her decision to put women on the team must have sent a strong message. At the next pretrial conference, Lynch said, more women lawyers were in attendance.

Outside the courtroom, Barker continued to champion women. She was a driving force behind the Women in Law Conference, previously sponsored by Indiana Lawyer, which brought the female members of the bar together to network and talk about issues in their practices, including balancing work with families.


vaidik-nancy.jpg Vaidik

Indiana Court of Appeals Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik remembers picking up the phone shortly after she had arrived in Indianapolis and hearing Barker introduce herself and offer an invitation to lunch. Vaidik is now following Barker’s lead by mentoring and helping young women as well as her law students at Indiana University Maurer School of Law.

“Judge Barker knew she had a responsibility,” Vaidik said. “She told me she knew if she screwed up she would set back other women. Her most lasting legacy is not the cases and not (being) the first woman. It is her generosity and mentoring of other women in her own funny, smart, lady-like way.”•






 

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  • Judge Barker's Court
    I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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  1. I have been on this program while on parole from 2011-2013. No person should be forced mentally to share private details of their personal life with total strangers. Also giving permission for a mental therapist to report to your parole agent that your not participating in group therapy because you don't have the financial mean to be in the group therapy. I was personally singled out and sent back three times for not having money and also sent back within the six month when you aren't to be sent according to state law. I will work to het this INSOMM's removed from this state. I also had twelve or thirteen parole agents with a fifteen month period. Thanks for your time.

  2. Our nation produces very few jurists of the caliber of Justice DOUGLAS and his peers these days. Here is that great civil libertarian, who recognized government as both a blessing and, when corrupted by ideological interests, a curse: "Once the investigator has only the conscience of government as a guide, the conscience can become ‘ravenous,’ as Cromwell, bent on destroying Thomas More, said in Bolt, A Man For All Seasons (1960), p. 120. The First Amendment mirrors many episodes where men, harried and harassed by government, sought refuge in their conscience, as these lines of Thomas More show: ‘MORE: And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, *575 and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship? ‘CRANMER: So those of us whose names are there are damned, Sir Thomas? ‘MORE: I don't know, Your Grace. I have no window to look into another man's conscience. I condemn no one. ‘CRANMER: Then the matter is capable of question? ‘MORE: Certainly. ‘CRANMER: But that you owe obedience to your King is not capable of question. So weigh a doubt against a certainty—and sign. ‘MORE: Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King's command make it round? And if it is round, will the King's command flatten it? No, I will not sign.’ Id., pp. 132—133. DOUGLAS THEN WROTE: Where government is the Big Brother,11 privacy gives way to surveillance. **909 But our commitment is otherwise. *576 By the First Amendment we have staked our security on freedom to promote a multiplicity of ideas, to associate at will with kindred spirits, and to defy governmental intrusion into these precincts" Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Comm., 372 U.S. 539, 574-76, 83 S. Ct. 889, 908-09, 9 L. Ed. 2d 929 (1963) Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, concurring. I write: Happy Memorial Day to all -- God please bless our fallen who lived and died to preserve constitutional governance in our wonderful series of Republics. And God open the eyes of those government officials who denounce the constitutions of these Republics by arbitrary actions arising out capricious motives.

  3. 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)

  4. "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.

  5. 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.

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