The Evansville Bar Association has honored federal Judge Richard Young with the James Bethel Gresham Freedom Award, the highest recognition the bar association gives.
Young, chief judge for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, was honored for his long legal career and service to the Evansville bar as well as the Indiana State Bar Association. He was presented with the award April 24 at the Evansville Bar Association’s annual Law Day dinner.
During her remarks, bar association president Laura Scott commended Young for the “respect and integrity he has brought to our bar association, our legal system and to the administration of justice.”
The James Bethel Gresham Freedom Award was established by the Evansville Bar Association to recognize and honor individuals whose careers have elevated respect for the law.
“It was an honor to be recognized by my peers with the highest award the bar association gives to its members,” Young said. “I’ve always been very proud of the Evansville Bar Association and of its commitment to improving the Evansville community.”
Young, a native of Iowa, followed his wife to Evansville after law school and began his legal career in 1980 at the firm of Hayes and Young. He subsequently served as corporation counsel for the city of Evansville and as public defender in the Vanderburgh Circuit Court.
When the late Judge William Miller announced his retirement from the Vanderburgh Circuit Court, Young, then 37-years-old, added his name to the candidate pool and was tapped by then-Gov. Evan Bayh in 1990 to fulfill the remainder of Miller’s term. Eight years later, Bayh nominated Young for the federal bench.
He presided over one of the most important case of his federal tenure in May 2014 when he heard oral arguments in Indiana’s same-sex marriage cases. A month later, he issued his opinion which found the state’s ban on gay marriage to be unconstitutional.
Young mused he does not know how he would have felt if he had received the marriage dispute earlier in his federal career, but by the time the landmark case reached his courtroom, he was a seasoned jurist.
“Of course, as a judge going along in the case, I was confident in my abilities to evaluate the law and interpret the law and the facts,” he said.
Reflecting on that time, Young also applauded the founding fathers for having the insight to grant federal judges lifetime appointment to the bench. This enabled him, he said, to focus on the facts and the law without having to worry about public opinion in the next election.
The same-sex marriage arguments were held in the Winfield K. Denton Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Evansville, a venue where Young often hears cases. Statute requires Evansville be an active court and for Young, having a docket there allows him to go home at the end of the day instead of to a hotel.
Evansville bar members take note of the time he logs at Southern District of Indiana’s southern-most District Court.
“We’re honored and we definitely appreciate that he is true to his roots,” Scott said, “and we recognize the importance of holding hearings here…. I think it benefits the entire community that he puts such a high priority on cherishing his roots.”
Young is currently serving as the elected 7th Circuit Court judge representative to the Judicial Conference of the United States. He is also a member of the conference’s Committee on the Administration of the Magistrate Judges System.
Outside of court, Young was a member of the ISBA’s House of Delegates and served on the board of directors of the Evansville Bar Association. From 1994-1995, he was president of the local bar.
As president, he spearheaded an effort by the bar association to raise $30,000 to build a Habitat for Humanity house in Evansville. Contributions to the project came from every active member of the bar. Young said he is now pleased to see young attorneys in the bar association becoming more active and stepping up to assume leadership positions.