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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. Ah yes... Echoes of 1963 as a ghostly George Wallace makes his stand at the Schoolhouse door. We now know about the stand of personal belief over service to all constituents at the Carter County Clerk door. The results are the same, bigotry unable to follow the directions of the courts and the courts win. Interesting to watch the personal belief take a back seat rather than resign from a perception of local power to make the statement.

  2. An oath of office, does it override the conscience? That is the defense of overall soldier who violates higher laws, isnt it? "I was just following orders" and "I swore an oath of loyalty to der Fuhrer" etc. So this is an interesting case of swearing a false oath and then knowing that it was wrong and doing the right thing. Maybe they should chop her head off too like the "king's good servant-- but God's first" like St Thomas More. ...... We wont hold our breath waiting for the aclu or other "civil liberterians" to come to her defense since they are all arrayed on the gay side, to a man or should I say to a man and womyn?

  3. Perhaps we should also convene a panel of independent anthropological experts to study the issues surrounding this little-known branch of human sacrifice?

  4. I'm going to court the beginning of Oct. 2015 to establish visitation and request my daughters visits while she is in jail. I raised my grandchild for the first two and half years. She was born out of wedlock and the father and his adopted mother wantwd her aborted, they went as far as sueing my daughter for abortion money back 5mo. After my grandchild was born. Now because of depression and drug abuse my daughter lost custody 2 and a half years ago. Everyting went wrong in court when i went for custody my lawyer was thrown out and a replacment could only stay 45 min. The judge would not allow a postponement. So the father won. Now he is aleinating me and my daughter. No matter the amount of time spent getting help for my daughter and her doing better he runs her in the ground to the point of suicide because he wants her to be in a relationship with him. It is a sick game of using my grandchild as a pawn to make my daughter suffer for not wanting to be with him. I became the intervener in the case when my daughter first got into trouble. Because of this they gave me her visitation. Im hoping to get it again there is questions of abuse on his part and I want to make sure my grandchild is doing alright. I really dont understand how the parents have rights to walk in and do whatever they want when the refuse to stand up and raise the child at first . Why should it take two and a half years to decide you want to raise your child.The father used me so he could finish college get a job and stop paying support by getting custody. Support he was paying my daughter that I never saw.

  5. Pence said when he ordered the investigation that Indiana residents should be troubled by the allegations after the video went viral. Planned Parenthood has asked the government s top health scientists at the National Institutes of Health to convene a panel of independent experts to study the issues surrounding the little-known branch of medicine.

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