Senior Judge Sarah Evans Barker of the District Court for the Southern District of Indiana remembered her late friend and colleague, Senior Judge Larry McKinney, as a man who had a great impact and wielded much influence from the bench.
He would “jolly up the jurors,” she said, put the witnesses at ease and often gain the defendants’ trust because they came to realize he genuinely sympathized with their situations. He was happiest in the courtroom, being well-versed in the trial rules and procedures but always able to add the grace notes.
And when the 7th Circuit Court of Appeal made a “mistake and reversed one of Larry’s brilliant opinions,” he remained resilient even though he was disappointed.
“Larry was without pretense,” Barker said. “He was content with what he had, doing what he could do, and being who he was.”
McKinney died Sept. 20 at age 73. Family and friends gathered Thursday in his courtroom at the Birch Bayh Federal Building and United States Courthouse in Indianapolis for a memorial to share stories and celebrate his life.
The full complement of judges from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana as well as the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Indiana along with staff and law clerks attended the event. All five justices of the Indiana Supreme Court plus trial court judges, retired judges and judges from other circuits joined the overflow crowd of attorneys to pay tribute.
Chief Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson told the crowd that to McKinney, his wife and sons were most important. No case, no position and no honor mattered as much to him.
“Family always came first,” she said.
McKinney was nominated by President Ronald Reagan and confirmed by the U.S. Senate in July 1987. McKinney assumed senior status in July 2009 but continued to have a full calendar of cases and shoulder other duties at the court.
His longtime law clerk Karen Reisinger, who he referred to as his surrogate daughter, said McKinney was relentlessly curious. He read and talked about a wide array of subjects from history and travel to religion and baseball. Difficult topics were especially intriguing to him, which is why he tackled patent law and relished being able to decide these cases despite not having a science degree.
Magistrate Judge Tim A. Baker, recounting the stories McKinney had told as part of an oral history project at the court, painted the portrait of a man who enjoyed life and was always at ease in his surroundings. Among the humorous recollections, Baker recalled McKinney’s tale of loading up the family in an RV, traveling to Washington, D.C. and staying at KOA campgrounds for his confirmation hearings.
Judge William Lawrence first joined the Southern Indiana District Court as a magistrate judge in 2002 when McKinney was serving as Chief Judge. During his remembrance of his boss, Lawrence offered into evidence bottles of horse urine beer and Moose Drool Brown Ale that he and McKinney would pass back and forth as gag gifts.
McKinney’s son, Andrew, spoke on behalf of the family, saying humor helped but their grief was great. Attorney Stephen Huddleston remembered when McKinney was a judge in Johnson Circuit Court, he regularly took extra steps to help people, particularly children, in need.
The ceremony ended with bagpipes playing McKinney’s favorite hymn, “Going Home.”
“Larry McKinney left us too soon,” Barker said. “We’ll miss him dearly and we’ll never forget him.”