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Magistrate Judge Hussmann turns in gavel but plans to keep working

February 10, 2016
Hussman Hussmann

On Jan. 31, Magistrate Judge William Hussmann Jr. raced his administrative assistant, Shelly James, to the office door. After nearly 28 years, the pair retired together from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana.

Hussmann was appointed to the court April 4, 1988. He presided over preliminary criminal proceedings and a wide range of civil cases in the Evansville, Terre Haute and New Albany divisions where he was estimated to have led 150 settlement conferences and written opinions in about 50 cases each year.

“It’s a wonderful job,” Hussmann said. “I really think I’ve got the best job in the judiciary.”

His retirement followed his 65th birthday, but he is only stepping down from the bench. He and his wife, Joann, will be on-call to take care of the grandchild when his son and daughter-in-law have their third child. Then when things settle into a routine, he plans to look for a job.

Hussmann is not sure at this point what he will do, though he is leaning toward trying to find an opportunity in the mediation arena. As a magistrate, he enjoyed being a part of settlement conferences and was amazed at how people who had been wronged were reasonable in reaching a compromise. Hoosiers are really good, he said, about finding a resolution to their problem.

When he was appointed as magistrate, he was nervous, thinking he would be tucked away by himself in Evansville. But he soon learned he had much support from his judicial colleagues. Whenever he had a question, the court staff and other judges gave him the answer and helped him through the learning curve that comes with joining the federal bench.

Working alongside him was James, who interviewed for her position three days after Hussmann was appointed and started on his investiture day. She could have retired a year ago, but decided to stay and leave with her boss.

James spent 40 years in the legal field, first working as a legal secretary at the Evansville law firm Kahn Dees Donovan & Kahn LLP. She loved helping the attorneys with litigation but decided to apply to the federal courts when one of the firm’s partners, Brian Williams, applied for the magistrate position. Afterward over lunch with his boyhood friend Hussmann, Williams put in a good word for James.

“It’s been a wonderful opportunity. Indiana has some of the best lawyers,” James said. “I’m going to miss all the lawyers.”

As a young man, Hussmann was not confident he wanted to be an attorney. He returned to his alma mater, Valparaiso University, to study law on the advice of his father-in-law. However, he struggled his first year and took a leave of absence. He spent the next year with his wife as house parents at a group home for juvenile delinquents in Minneapolis. After the year was over, Hussmann was ready to return to his legal studies.

“It was not love at first sight,” Hussmann said of law school, “but it ended up being a real good move.”

Over his subsequent career in Indiana, Hussmann has served as deputy attorney general, and staff attorney for the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission. He also spent time in the private sector as an in-house staff attorney for Associated Insurance Co. Inc.

When James arrived for her first day, she had a chair mat and telephone in her office along with a stack of dictation. A couple of weeks later, a desk arrived. She explained she and Hussmann grew up together in the job and she described their retirement as an amicable divorce.

Their last day at the federal court in Evansville was filled with civil and criminal proceedings. But at 4:58 p.m., Hussmann and James were set to race to the office door.

Before he turned out the lights, Hussmann had one parting comment: “Thank you to all the lawyers in Indiana for making my job easy.”•

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