Explosion case cemented Richmond attorney’s reputation

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Kent Klinge learned the basics of law in school.

But it was in a Connersville courtroom where he became a lawyer.

Klinge, who was one of the top trial lawyers in Richmond for more than 25 years in the 1970s, '80s and '90s, retired from practice as a partner at Boston Bever Klinge Cross & Chidester in Richmond on Jan. 1 after a 47-year career.

His post-law school study came at a time when the city of Richmond needed him most. A native of Indianapolis, Klinge was fresh out of school when he joined the law firm of Cecere Bowen & O'Maley in September 1967.

His mentor, Andy Cecere, was Richmond city attorney.

Within seven months, Klinge was handed the task of defending the city in a lawsuit stemming from massive explosions that killed 41 people and destroyed most of the downtown area.

"A family whose father had died in the explosion sued everybody who had anything to do with it," Klinge told the Palladium-Item. "It was a major, major case to tackle and Andy, who was tied up with a hundred other things, just said, 'Take it and run with it.'"

Klinge's involvement in the case stretched over more than two years. The jury trial itself lasted more than seven weeks. In the end, the suit against the city was dismissed.

"That case set the precedent for all the other lawsuits," Klinge said. "It gave us all a pretty good indication as to how the other trials would come out."

"There is no question about it, it was an excellent piece of legal work," Cecere said. "He was a great help to me. He's always been an extremely good trial lawyer."

The jury found the Richmond Gas Corporation culpable and most of the rest of the suits were settled out of court.

Klinge gained an instant reputation as a solid trial lawyer. Over the next 25-plus years, he worked almost exclusively in the courtroom.

"I lived at the courthouse," Klinge said. "All those years, I was down there a whole lot more than I was in my office.

"I loved those trials. It was a war, but it was fun. I just got such a kick out of it," he said.

Klinge split off from Cecere Bowen & O'Maley in 1979 and started a firm with Tom Snow, which lasted until Snow became Wayne County Superior Court I judge in 1989.

"He was my mentor my first couple of years practicing law and one of my regrets in becoming a judge was leaving the practice with Kent," Snow said. "He was a solid practitioner of the law and an excellent trial attorney. We had a wonderful business relationship and became a close friend."

Klinge also worked in local politics, volunteering and organizing for the Republican Party.

He helped bring California Gov. Ronald Reagan to Richmond for a fundraiser for Sen. David Dennis in the mid-1970s and spent several years coordinating campaign organizations for Sen. Richard Lugar in 16 Indiana counties.

Lugar was a family friend and made a dozen visits to Klinge's home during campaigns.

"He's a great man," Klinge said. "The only thing I didn't like about his visits is that he would get up every day at 5 a.m. and run a mile. I always went with him."

Klinge also was campaign chairman for Cliff Dickman's second run for mayor of Richmond. He helped the Dickman administration buy land to create industrial parks on the city's east and west side.

"We did bond issues that helped companies build buildings or expand buildings," Klinge said. "Cliff wanted to create jobs. That was something he was very aggressive about."

An avid fisherman and golfer, Klinge and his wife, Francie, who retired from Richmond Community Schools in May 2014, plan to spend more time with their grandchildren in Lafayette where their son John is coach of the Purdue University women's swimming team.

"This has been a wonderful community in which to work," he said. "I have so many good friends here, and this county has always been blessed with exceptional judges. I'm leaving because I just feel like it's time, but I've enjoyed all of it."

This is an AP Member Exchange shared by the Palladium-Item.


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