Slain Indiana lawyer remembered as scholarly local leader

Keywords Features / Law Firms / Lebanon

Longtime Lebanon attorneys are remembering James P. Buchanan Sr. as a friendly, scholarly colleague who left his mark on the Boone County community. They described Buchanan as a skilled general practice attorney and a well-regarded elected prosecutor whose life was marked by tragedies.

Buchanan, 80, died March 19 from injuries he suffered during an attack in his home several days earlier. His son, James P. Buchanan Jr., 48, was arrested and is held on $1 million bond in the Boone County Jail, said deputy prosecuting attorney Kent Eastwood. The son is charged with Level 3 felony aggravated battery and Level 6 felony strangulation. Eastwood said more charges are anticipated, but prosecutors are withholding them to allow the family time to grieve.

Sources said the son has a history of mental illness.

Lebanon attorney Thomas Whitsitt, who had cases as opposing counsel to Buchanan over the years, said Buchanan was friendly and well-liked. “He was one of those lawyers who was kind of a scholarly guy, always a gentleman, and always courteous to other lawyers,” he said “They’re a well-respected family in Boone County.”

Peter Obremskey, of counsel at Parr Richey Frandsen Patterson Kruse in Lebanon, graduated from Indiana University Law School in Bloomington with Buchanan in 1961. Obremskey recalled Buchanan came from a family of lawyers — his father, Warren, operated a law office in Rockville. Obremskey said when he came home to Lebanon from serving in the Air Force, he became reacquainted with Buchanan, and their wives also became good friends.

Like Whitsitt, Obremskey also used the word scholarly in describing Buchanan. “He would have made a wonderful history professor,” Obremskey said, noting his ability as a storyteller in bringing past events to life. “He was a good lawyer, and he worked hard at it.”

Buchanan served as Boone County’s elected prosecutor in the 1960s, and a son, John B. Buchanan, was elected to the position in 1999. John Buchanan died while in office in 2002 after being diagnosed with cancer. His wife, attorney Pamela Buchanan, carried out the duties of the office for a time during his illness, according to the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council. She now is in private practice at Buchanan & Bruggenschmidt P.C. in Zionsville.

James Buchanan Sr. endured another family tragedy years earlier with the drowning of a young son near the family’s home.

“That poor family has had a dark cloud over their heads that they don’t deserve,” Obremskey said.

But daughter-in-law Pamela Buchanan remembers her father-in-law as a beloved grandparent who loved to read and go on hikes.

“When my grandchildren were young, they could not say the word ‘grandfather,’” Pamela Buchanan recalled, noting her father-in-law subsequently earned the nickname “Fa-fa” from grandkids and other family alike. “They worshipped him,” she said of her three children and James’ grandchildren, one of whom is now in law school.

“He taught me about the law, and I learned from him,” she said. “He was somewhat of a mentor for me and for my husband.”

James Buchanan was born in Clinton, Indiana, on Sept. 23, 1936, the son of an attorney and a schoolteacher. He played basketball and football at Rockville High School and graduated from Wabash College in 1958 before attending law school. He served in the U.S. Navy from 1961-1965 before joining the law firm of Stewart & Richardson in Lebanon, later opening his own practice. In 1965, he married his wife, Margaret "Peggy" Buchanan, who survives.

Obremskey remembers Buchanan as “a very, very nice guy” and a member of a circle of friends called the Friday the 13th Club, comprised of local folks from all professions. “Whenever Friday the 13th falls, the 13 of us would get together and have dinner and tell lies about how great we were,” he said.

Years ago, members of the group bought an expensive bottle of brandy to be opened by the last survivor. “We’ve lost four or five people. Now, Jim’s one of those,” Obremskey said. “I liked Jim Buchanan.”

Arrangements are pending at Myers Mortuary in Lebanon.

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