Friedlander reflects on half-century in law as retirement nears

August 12, 2015
Indiana Court of Appeals Judge Ezra Friedlander talks about his more than 22 years on the appellate bench. Friedlander is scheduled to retire and assume senior judge status later this month. (IL Photo/Eric Learned)

Judge Ezra “Zeke” Friedlander has participated in excess of 6,000 Indiana Court of Appeals opinions and written more than 3,000. There’s no question which was most talked about on national television and dominated media from coast to coast.

“Sassy was a Vietnamese pot-bellied pig,” Friedlander begins in his deep, just-the-facts New Jersey inflection. “The city of Anderson wanted to make her owners get rid of her,” because officials argued the pet, a novelty in the early 1990s, violated a city ordinance banning livestock. A trial court had agreed, and Sassy’s owners took their case to the Court of Appeals.

“I let Sassy live in Anderson,” Friedlander says.

It’s an amusing case for the 73-year-old judge to talk about as he finishes packing up his Statehouse chambers. But it’s also a bit of a landmark still cited, for instance, by the Animal Legal and Historical Center at Michigan State University.

Everyone agreed Sassy was a house pet, Friedlander wrote, so the livestock prohibition didn’t apply. His opinion helpfully noted the city could ban pet pot-bellied pigs if it chose, but not without adopting an ordinance specifically stating so.

The case also illustrates how COA Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik sees Friedlander’s legacy. “He has made a significant contribution to Indiana jurisprudence through thousands of practical, common sense judicial decisions,” Vaidik says.

“I’m kind of a bottom-line guy,” Friedlander acknowledges. “I don’t want to make something more than what’s before me. I think most of the judges on the bench are that way.”

But he says there’s nothing special about his writing style, which often concisely poses upfront the central question before the court and the panel’s answer, followed by the background, discussion and analysis. “I have no proprietary interest in writing skills,” he says.

Replacing Friedlander on the court is Marion Superior Judge Robert Altice, who was named to the court last month in Gov. Mike Pence’s first appellate appointment. Altice will have a mentor, and Friedlander recalls that when he arrived on the court, he relied heavily on his mentor, now-retired Judge V. Sue Shields. “I would run down to her continually,” he says.

It’s been a little more than 22 1/2 years – “22.8,” Friedlander says – since he was appointed to the bench by then-Gov. Evan Bayh. Pair those years with the preceding 27-plus as a practicing attorney, and he says the time feels right. Compulsory retirement at 75 would be just around the corner anyway.

“I was sworn in in July 50 years ago,” says Friedlander, who will continue to serve as a senior judge. He’s planning to travel with his wife, Linda, and spend time with grandkids here and in California. “Being away in winter is something to look forward to,” he says. “They say the first month of retirement is vacation; after that you have to figure stuff out.”

If his past is any indication, figuring it out should come easily: Friedlander has among the most varied background of any of his colleagues. Out of Indiana University School of Law in 1965, he went to work in Lake County for a predecessor firm of Lucas Holcomb & Medrea LLP and as a part-time deputy juvenile prosecutor.

Friedlander’s private legal practice included significant trial and transactional work, mainly representing small businesses. He also served as a deputy prosecutor in Marion County and was corporation counsel for the Indiana secretary of state, where he drafted Indiana’s then-new Not-For-Profit Corporation Act.

While in private practice, Friedlander made his mark in business and transactional law. He says a 1980s case he represented involving the ownership of 1,400-year-old mosaics from Cyrus is among the most notable. Autocephalous Greek-Orthodox Church of Cyprus v. Goldberg, 917 F.2d 278, (7th Cir. 1990) became a textbook conflict-of-laws case.

Friedlander is one of a few COA judges with a substantial business and private practice background, having served on boards of privately held and public corporations, for example. He says fellow judges consult him occasionally on business matters where they think he might have some expertise, but he doesn’t believe his departure will leave a void in those areas.

Court of Appeals Judge John Baker said he and Friedlander have become great friends. “Zeke gave us all insight from the business world and so many other facets unfamiliar to many of us,” Baker said. “He is a caring, amiable fellow who is blessed with a wisdom accumulated by a diverse experience in law and in life.”

Court of Appeals Judge Rudolph R. Pyle III said he’s been honored to serve with Friedlander. “My fondest memories of working with him will be of our time traveling to Turkey and speaking to the Justice Academy of Turkey,” Pyle said. “He is a true humanitarian and a great colleague.”

 During his time on the bench, Friedlander has also made a mark in promoting diversity. With former Justice Myra Selby, he was appointed the first co-chair of the Indiana Supreme Court Commission on Race and Gender Fairness, a position he held for seven years.

Friedlander also guided establishment of the Indiana Conference for Legal Education Opportunity’s summer intern program, the COA segment of which is now named in honor of Senior Judge Carr Darden.

The 10-week paid internships immerse qualified minority, low-income or educationally disadvantaged students in the court’s daily work under the guidance of leading jurists. Friedlander also served on the American Bar Association panels addressing diversity in the judiciary.

That the judge has left such a mark on Indiana and on the law probably wasn’t in his mind when he arrived in the state not quite 60 years ago. Because there was no medical school in New Jersey at the time, he came to Indiana planning to follow in the footsteps of an uncle who was a doctor and had studied at Indiana University.

In his junior year of college, Friedlander said he changed his focus. “I think I was more a government and history guy and probably always had been. I liked the sciences, but I liked history and government more.”

friedlander-pullout.jpgHe also had a brother, David, who was in the service, and the two had planned to go into practice together back home in Jersey. But just before Friedlander graduated from IU as an undergrad, his brother died in an accident at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

A young Friedlander decided to stay here and says Indiana’s been good to him. He is grateful for the experiences he’s had to serve.

“My takeaway?” he says. “It’s been a great privilege.”•


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