Flags lowered in honor of Senior Judge McKinney

Senior Judge Larry McKinney had a quick remedy for attorneys who whined.

On the wall of his chambers, the federal judge had a photograph of former Detroit Pistons center Bill Laimbeer whining to an official. Laimbeer had a reputation for being a chronic complainer and the picture captured that aspect of his personality well.

So, if the lawyers who gathered around McKinney’s desk began to whine, the judge would point at the Laimbeer photo and say, “No whining.”

Jay Yeager, partner at Faegre Baker Daniels LLP, experienced the remedy a couple of times and has heard a similar story from other attorneys. It is a page from the lore that was written during McKinney’s lifetime and is being fondly recalled after his untimely death earlier this week.

“He was a heck of a judge and a heck of a gentleman,” Yeager said.

McKinney, 73, passed away overnight between Wednesday and Thursday. He leaves behind a wife, two sons and grandchildren.

His funeral service will be private. A memorial ceremony at the Birch Bayh Federal Building and United States Courthouse will be scheduled at a later date. In honor of McKinney, flags at federal courthouses throughout the Southern District of Indiana were lowered to half-staff and will remain so through the end of the day.

Nominated by President Ronald Reagan and appointed to the federal court in 1987, he assumed senior status in 2009. Recently, he had told Chief Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson of the Southern District of Indiana that he planned to work another five and retire when he was 78.

“He was a force for good on our court,” Magnus-Stinson said of McKinney, noting his death is a “crushing blow.”

Although he was carrying only half a caseload, Magnus-Stinson maintained he had a full schedule. McKinney devoted much time to the civic education programs, We the People and mock trial, and put a great deal of energy into the Re-Entry and Community Help (REACH) program which works to assist ex-offenders in staying out of prison.

McKinney has repeatedly been described as brilliant, kind and often using humor to keep the attorneys focused on the important matters. Magnus-Stinson remembered when one lawyer was taking himself and his case too seriously, McKinney, a huge White Sox fan, tossed a baseball to the lawyer, recommending he get a life by getting acquainted with the sport.

The death of McKinney comes little more than a month after Magistrate Judge Denise LaRue lost her battle with cancer. Already, the court had been set to receive assistance from two Wisconsin judges and, Magnus-Stinson said, has been getting additional offers for help from within the 7th Circuit.  

Always with a heavy caseload, this year the Southern Indiana District has seen a “significant increase” in motions practice, Magnus-Stinson said. To date, pending motions in the court totaled 2,309, with 865 of them being ripe and fully briefed.

The Southern District has one vacancy created when Judge Sarah Evans Barker took senior status in 2014 and was long ago deemed by the Administration Office for the U.S. Courts as needing another judgeship.

McKinney’s death does not create another vacancy since he was on senior status. In fact, Magnus-Stinson holds the judgeship previously held by McKinney. Only Congress could authorize another judgeship for the court.

Indiana Sen. Todd Young has been screening applicants for Barker’s seat. He released a statement Thursday, saying, “I’m saddened by the passing of Judge McKinney. He served with distinction on the federal bench for 30 years and will be remembered fondly by all.”

Speaking Thursday evening at a reception hosted by Barnes & Thornburg LLP, attorney Amy Noe, incoming president of the Indiana Bar Foundation, noted the entire Indiana legal community was reeling from the news of McKinney’s death.

“He was without equal and will be sorely missed,” Noe said.

Indiana Supreme Court Justice Steven David was an attorney practicing in Bartholomew County when he met McKinney, who was then judge of Johnson Circuit Court. David remembered McKinney had a “quiet command” of his courtroom and cared about the litigants who came before him.

David counts McKinney as his mentor and remembered him as being considerate, compassionate, intelligent and extremely humble. He also used humor to respectfully and gently point out any mistake a lawyer practicing before him made.

“He was the person the rest of us want to be,” David said. “If we can be half the person Larry McKinney was, we’ll have done quite well.”

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