Commemorating a legal legacy

March 25, 2015

In his hometown of Evansville where he is known to friends and colleagues as “Randy,” retired Indiana Chief Justice Randall Shepard is being recognized in a way that members of the legal community say will appropriately honor his legacy.

Money from private donors and legal organizations is being put toward two commemorations. The first is a plaque noting Shepard’s contributions to Indiana that will hang outside the Randall T. Shepard Courtroom in the historic Vanderburgh County Courthouse. The second is a lecture series which will bring nationally known lawyers and legal scholars to Evansville to talk about law and leadership.

A reception held March 12 at the courthouse unveiled the new honors. Members of the Evansville Bar Association along with members of the current class of the Indiana State Bar Association’s Leadership Development Academy, Indiana Court of Appeals Judge Melissa May, and Indiana Supreme Court Justices Steven David and Mark Massa were among those who attended.

In his remarks at the event, ISBA President Jeff Hawkins reminded the attorneys and judges in the room that many of them had Shepard’s autograph on their law licenses. He thanked Evansville for lending Shepard to the state for a few decades.

Shepard has retained strong ties to the southern Indiana city. Massa, who clerked for him from 1991 to 1993 and then filled the seat on the high court that opened when Shepard retired, said the former chief justice has always been very connected to the community.

“He’s a proud son,” Massa said. “He loves his hometown.”

As part of its 100th anniversary celebration in 2011, the Evansville Bar Association honored Shepard by renovating the courtroom on the second floor of the old courthouse and dedicating it to him.

The refurbishment project put a nameplate on the courtroom but never provided any explanation of who Shepard is or his impact on the courts. EBA President Laura Scott said the new plaque will be a nice complement to the room since anyone not familiar with Shepard will be able to get a quick education on all he has done by reading the panel.

Massa was impressed with the courtroom and happy his mentor was being honored.

“I was thrilled to be in that courtroom that night,” Massa said, “because he has been such an influence in my life.”

‘Wonderful gift’

The money for the dual honor is coming from the inaugural class of the ISBA Leadership Development Academy. Initially, the class members planned to raise funds and commission a public work of art to be installed in Evansville in honor of Shepard.

However, the group collected less than half the money needed to construct and install the sculpture. Complicating the effort, the city shifted its focus away from the creation of a new downtown park where the Shepard artwork was supposed to have been placed.

In December 2014, Allen Circuit Judge Thomas Felts stepped in as chair of the ISBA Leadership Development Academy Committee to review the project and determine a way forward.

Felts said the artwork had too many roadblocks to overcome so that proposal was abandoned. The idea for the plaque was developed by Vanderburgh Superior Judge Leslie Shively and retired Vanderburgh County Judge Carl Heldt, along with Felts and the first LDA class president, Kevin Morrissey.

Next, Felts and the class approached Shepard, who suggested the lecture series.

“I just couldn’t be more pleased with the way it’s all worked out,” Felts said.

Scott and Shively applauded the new direction of the project as well. The plaque and the lecture series will reach more people in a meaningful way and will impact them more than the proposed sculpture, they said.

“I think it’s wonderful that the project has been completed and I think the resolution that what was decided upon was better than what was originally proposed,” Scott said.

In particular, she was appreciative of the funds to bring in visiting speakers.

honor-courtroom-15col.jpg Renovated by the Evansville Bar Association, the courtroom in the historic Vanderburgh County Courthouse is named after the community’s distinguished judicial son. (IL Photo/Michael Bond)

“I think the lecture series is a wonderful opportunity and a wonderful gift to the community,” Scott said. “Certainly, it will help the EBA fulfill one of its missions to educate the public about topics in the law and enhance the profession of our own bar members.”

The EBA and the Evansville Bar Foundation will work together to develop the lecture series. Since the money is given with no guidelines or parameters attached, the two organizations have the freedom and flexibility to craft what is expected to become an annual event.

Several noted the lecture series is a fitting tribute to Shepard. It focuses on the rule of law, a topic that has long interested him.

New direction

Felts has acknowledged that the first LDA class received little guidance on the service project other than to think big. The group conceived the idea of creating a work of art that would double as a kind of jungle gym that children could climb on and run around.

Members of the class raised nearly $40,000 and selected the sculpture they wanted to commission. The price tag for completing the project was estimated to be roughly $100,000, far short of the amount the class had on hand.

“Naturally, I’m always disappointed when a piece of public art is not produced,” said Kelley Coures, executive director of the Evansville Department of Metropolitan Development. “Anytime we get the opportunity to produce a piece of public art, that is good for the city.”

Still, Coures, who worked with Shepard when he was part of Mayor Russell Lloyd Sr.’s administration, said the new commemorations will benefit the community.

“Anything that honors Randy, I’m all for it,” Coures said. “I am where I am because of him.”

Hawkins as well is satisfied with the outcome.

“As president of the state bar association, I am not at all embarrassed,” he replied to the question of whether the defunct project had become an embarrassment. “These people worked hard.”

The LDA is designed to teach people that a great deal of effort is needed to put together big things that move society and the practice of law forward, Hawkins said. When obstacles arise, people have to find a way around so the work can continue. The first class had the best of intentions and the new direction they found brought the right outcome, he said.

“I think the class has gone on to distinguish themselves in many ways,” Hawkins continued. “They have proven (the LDA) is a worthwhile endeavor.”•


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