Colleagues, former colleagues, clients, family and friends gathered July 11 to thank longtime Indiana Legal Services executive director Norman Metzger for his work in making sure disadvantaged and indigent Hoosiers did not fight alone.
The reception honoring Metzger, who retired in March after 45 years at the helm of ILS, was held at the Indianapolis Central Library and attracted a room full of admirers. Current ILS board president and Lake County Superior Judge Calvin Hawkins served as master of ceremonies. Previous board presidents were recognized for their service to the organization.
Prior to the event, Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard had signed a proclamation declaring July 11, 2015, at Norman P. Metzger Day.
Metzger began his tenure in legal aid in 1968 and was tapped to lead the statewide legal services organization. Saturday, past and present board members along with attorneys and judges thanked and congratulated Metzger. They praised him for hiring bright young lawyers, continually supporting the work of those attorneys, and for tirelessly advocating on behalf of the poor clients.
Jamie Andree, who was hired by Metzger in 1979 and is currently the managing attorney of the ILS Bloomington office, described her former boss as understanding poverty and having tremendous respect for the people needing legal representation. She also noted he did the tedious and thankless, yet crucial, work that comes with being an executive director.
“Thank you for giving me in 1979 a good job and the freedom, opportunity, encouragement and pretty much everything else I asked for to make it a great job not just for me but for all the people we serve,” Andree said.
Founding board member Douglas Hill said the impact of Metzger and legal aid was felt beyond the courtroom. Hill credited legal services with helping to keep things peaceful in Indianapolis during the tumultuous 1960s.
Jon Laramore, the new executive director of ILS, spoke about the just-created Norman P. Metzger Leadership Fund. Donations to this fund will help the agency train a new generation of poverty attorneys. So far, the fund has received $30,000, and many guests at the reception were making contributions as well.
“The Metzger Fund will be essential to the continued vitality of ILS,” Laramore said.
After the presentations and remarks, Metzger took a seat on the stage and reminisced about his childhood, family and career, telling stories of hardships, adventures and past clients as well as cases. He described the work of legal services as taking small steps of courage that added up to monumental relief for people who without legal representation would have gotten trampled.
“Some of the strongest, smartest, toughest people I know are poor people,” Metzger said.
He remembered attorneys who took clients into their home, who continued representation in the face of threats and how the agency did not give in to intimidation. Those and other “small acts made a monumental contribution to equal justice in our society,” he said.