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Zoeller: State’s lawyer has duty to represent state in marriage suit

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By Greg Zoeller

Recent federal court actions that first struck down Indiana’s statute limiting marriage to the traditional definition, and then stayed that order pending appeal, have left many in our state in legal limbo. As the attorney who represents state government and defends its laws, I know this difficult case stirs many people’s deeply held beliefs that touch their lives in very personal ways. Not since my office had to represent the state in lawsuits arising from the State Fair disaster has a dispute been so seemingly impossible to address in a way that the public would accept as being fair to all concerned.

Not to have requested a stay in Indiana’s same-sex marriage cases would have been a dereliction of duty to my state client given that the United States Supreme Court granted an identical stay Jan. 6 after Utah’s traditional marriage law was invalidated. The Supreme Court stayed implementation of a lower court’s order until it could consider cases working their way through the federal appeals pipeline. Other federal courts around the nation have uniformly followed that precedent of issuing stay orders in same-sex marriage lawsuits to avoid chaos at local courthouses.

In 2013, the Supreme Court declined to decide the question of state-level marriage statutes because the state of California and its attorney general did not defend California’s law. Instead, the court threw the question back to states, prompting more litigation that could last yet another year. Failing to defend Indiana’s law from this challenge is not an option available to me or the attorney general’s office. Though I don’t make state laws, I take seriously my obligation to defend the statutes the Legislature passes from challenges plaintiffs’ lawyers file, both in trial court and on appeal. We can’t abandon our state clients or fail to defend the statute, duties that some editorials have not grasped.

I respect opinions of constituents who disagree. From reading news accounts and social media, it is clear some view me as being on the “wrong side of history” or even bigoted, homophobic or uncaring. None of that is accurate, but being an elected official means being subjected to criticism that sometimes can be intense, accurate or not. The women and men who serve in the attorney general’s office and who have a duty to represent our state in court – whether the state prevails – are simply fulfilling their obligations as public servants.

As officers of the court, all lawyers must try to maintain the public’s respect for judges and the courts’ decisions. Attorneys on both sides of these cases are fulfilling oaths to represent opposing positions in court to the best of our ability. Our adversarial system of justice ensures both sides of a controversy are fully aired and that a decision is not made until both sides have had the opportunity to advocate their viewpoints zealously.

Regardless of how the U.S. Supreme Court eventually decides, I ask everyone to respect the judges, the decisions they render and the attorneys advocating for all parties involved. While courts do their work, Hoosiers on all sides of this contentious issue ought to show civility and respect toward each other and toward the judicial process.•

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Greg Zoeller is attorney general of Indiana. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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  1. Your article is a good intro the recent amendments to Fed.R.Civ.P. For a much longer - though not necessarily better -- summary, counsel might want to read THE CHIEF UMPIRE IS CHANGING THE STRIKE ZONE, which I co-authored and which was just published in the January issue of THE VERDICT (the monthly publication of the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association).

  2. Thank you, John Smith, for pointing out a needed correction. The article has been revised.

  3. The "National institute for Justice" is an agency for the Dept of Justice. That is not the law firm you are talking about in this article. The "institute for justice" is a public interest law firm. http://ij.org/ thanks for interesting article however

  4. I would like to try to find a lawyer as soon possible I've had my money stolen off of my bank card driver pressed charges and I try to get the information they need it and a Social Security board is just give me a hold up a run around for no reason and now it think it might be too late cuz its been over a year I believe and I can't get the right information they need because they keep giving me the runaroundwhat should I do about that

  5. It is wonderful that Indiana DOC is making some truly admirable and positive changes. People with serious mental illness, intellectual disability or developmental disability will benefit from these changes. It will be much better if people can get some help and resources that promote their health and growth than if they suffer alone. If people experience positive growth or healing of their health issues, they may be less likely to do the things that caused them to come to prison in the first place. This will be of benefit for everyone. I am also so happy that Indiana DOC added correctional personnel and mental health staffing. These are tough issues to work with. There should be adequate staffing in prisons so correctional officers and other staff are able to do the kind of work they really want to do-helping people grow and change-rather than just trying to manage chaos. Correctional officers and other staff deserve this. It would be great to see increased mental health services and services for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities in the community so that fewer people will have to receive help and support in prisons. Community services would like be less expensive, inherently less demeaning and just a whole lot better for everyone.

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