IBF honors advocates of civil legal aid and civic education

As an attorney, Beverly Corn has lived by one simple ideal – everybody who needs a lawyer should have one.

The Vanderburgh County advocate has worked as a public defender, magistrate in the Vanderburgh Circuit Court, and for the past 12 and a half years, as the plan administrator for Volunteer Lawyer Program of Southwestern Indiana which covers the counties of Posey to Perry and upward to Vigo.

“I have a philosophy that everybody, no matter who they are, deserves the best legal representation available,” Corn said, explaining her drive to help the marginalized. “And so it has been my life’s career to be a living example of that philosophy.”

Corn intends to continue working in the law but from a different position. She will be stepping down in a few weeks as plan administrator and moving into a to-be-determined job that will likely involve the law.

“I’m not done yet,” she said. “I just don’t what” I will be doing next.

Before she embarks on the new phase of her career, her colleagues took a moment let her know they appreciate the work she has done so far. Corn was honored with the Randall T. Shepard Award for Excellence in Pro Bono during the Indiana Bar Foundation’s 2016 recognition dinner.

This year’s annual event was held Dec. 11 in downtown Indianapolis, bringing together state and federal judges, attorneys and their families. Along with Corn, the IBF honored other key advocates who uphold the organization’s dual mission of civil justice and civic education. The evening also included recognition of the members of the 2016 Fellows Class and the Keystone Society.

As it has in the past, the dinner was held in conjunction with the We the People state competition. Nearly 700 high and middle school students from around Indiana were in town for three days to demonstrate their knowledge of U.S. history and the Constitution.

Senior Judge Larry McKinney for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana used his keynote address to thank the audience for their work and support of the civic education program, which has taught about 200,000 Hoosier students since 1987.

McKinney extolled the We the People program as teaching students how to do original research, how to interact with and learn from their peers, even those with whom they do not agree, and that they can change their minds when they get better information. The students spend a lot of time, dedication and energy preparing for the competitions.

“You are providing them with that opportunity,” McKinney said told the audience.

For their work with the We the People program, the IBF honored Church Church Hittle & Antrim partner Séamus Boyce with the William Baker Award and retired senior project engineer Robert Dyson Jr. with the John Patrick Award.

Dyson has volunteered with the Fishers High School We the People team for a decade and has judged regional and state competitions.

Boyce has many school districts as clients and often puts in a plug for the civic education program whenever he conducts a professional development seminar for school leaders. He also enjoys talking to students about the law, government and history. The IBF credits him with helping get all the elementary schools in Carmel to implement the curriculum.

“So what I’m doing is just helping them further realize (We the People is) a valuable tool, it’s trending, it’s growing.  Certainly at time when we’re looking for opportunities to talk, it’s perfect,” he said.   

Fort Wayne attorney John Cowan of Tourkow Crell Rosenblatt & Johnston LLP received the Pro Bono Publico Award for his volunteer work helping local residents in need of legal representation. Since 2008, he has donated more than 500 hours of service to the Volunteer Lawyer Program of Northeast Indiana.
Corn said she was humbled and honored when she was notified she was receiving the Shepard Award.

Her time at Volunteer Lawyer Program was marked by cycles of rough and better times in the economy but in 2010, the worst times arrived. The Great Recession increased the number of people who needed legal services at the same time that it had crippled the Interest on Lawyers Trust Account which provided the funds for the pro bono initiatives like the VLP.

During a conference call when Corn and co-administrator Scott Wylie were told the budget was being cut and the southwestern district was being expanded, all Corn could do was scream. However, she was able to keep the program running, in part by drawing upon her experience growing up in Wabash where she learned to spend wisely and always put something in savings.

Reflecting on her tenure in legal aid, Corn acknowledged the work is difficult because there never seems to an end to the line of downtrodden people who need a lawyer.

“It’s frustrating, it’s exhausting but those times that you see that you’ve done something that’s really good, it’s also pure joy,” she said. “And so that’s what keeps you going. It’s those rare moments.”

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