IndyBar: A (Pretty Inaccurate) History of the IndyBar’s Professionalism Awards

iba-pres-bell-james-20181913 was an anxious time for the city of Indianapolis. In October of that year, street car workers began a strike on Election Day; city elections were disrupted and public outrage ensued. The strike grew to include other labor groups and tensions mounted as business leaders demanded that the governor call in the National Guard to end the strike. The unions retaliated by threatening violence and the National Guard was eventually summoned and our city was placed under martial law until the strike ended.

The following January, the IndyBar elected a president who matched the coldness of this time. His name was Ferdinand Shirley and if a bear from a Disney movie had been around to describe him, he would have used two words: 1. Prickly 2. Pear. Ferdinand would only answer to “Mr. Shirley” and he did not suffer fools gladly. He wanted to be known as a hard-nosed courtroom warrior/lawyer and if you weren’t able to figure out how smart he was in the first minute you knew him, he would simply tell you.

Once he was named president, Mr. Shirley made it a priority to point out all that he thought was wrong with the practice of law in Indianapolis:

• Judges who ruled against him;

• Judges who never ruled at all;

• Lawyers who would not cave to his demands; and

• Lawyers who never called him back.

And thus, the idea for the first Amateurism Award Breakfast was born. Mr. Shirley appointed the nominating and awards committee for this breakfast, (which included only Mr. Shirley) and “The Committee” immediately decided to give the Paper Gavel Award to Judge Ernest Pickens whom Mr. Shirley noted “practically invented the term ‘lazy judge.’” “The Committee” then gave the Amateurism Award to attorney Larz Remster who never returned any of Mr. Shirley’s telegrams. (In fairness, Larz said that he was happy to meet Mr. Shirley face-to-face, but he wasn’t tech-savvy and therefore, didn’t “do telegrams.”) Finally, the Unsung Hero Award went to Mr. Shirley himself because “The Committee” determined Mr. Shirley still had not received enough credit for his greatness.

So on March 20, 1914, the first and final Amateurism Award Breakfast was held. Mr. Shirley welcomed the crowd that included his mother, his bridge partner, his chiropractor, his assistant, his basset hound and his three law clerks. (No one else attended.) Mr. Shirley introduced the Unsung Hero Award, sat down and then got up to receive his award. His acceptance speech took longer than he had expected because he had to wait for the standing ovation from his law clerks to die down.

Unfortunately, the other award recipients did not attend. Judge Pickens did not RSVP for the event and instead transferred the invitation to the Supreme Court of Indiana so it could appoint a special judge to attend in his place. After receiving his invitation to accept his award, Larz was suddenly inspired to learn how to telegram. In the one telegram he sent in his life, he stated “Ferdy, take long walk off short plank. Please. [Full stop]”

Needless to say, the Amateurism Breakfast was a complete bust as it left IndyBar members with a negative feeling about their profession. However, on the bright side, these negative feelings led the IndyBar to celebrate the positive contributions of its members and this inspired what was later called the Professionalism Breakfast. [Editor’s Note: Almost everything stated in the above paragraphs is fiction. Almost everything that follows is true.]

The IndyBar is committed to making the practice of law more enjoyable by fostering a continued respect and trust among its lawyers and by seeking to promote the fair and efficient resolution of disputes. In that spirit, I hope you will join us for the Professionalism Breakfast on Tuesday March 20 at the Meridian Hills Country Club where we will honor Judge William T. Lawrence of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana with the Silver Gavel Award, Joel Tragesser of Quarles & Brady LLP with the Professionalism Award and Professor Lahny Silva of Indiana University McKinney School of Law with the Unsung Hero Award. We will also receive remarks from Indiana Supreme Court Justice Christopher Goff.

It will be a morning when we will take the opportunity to recognize and thank some of the best our profession has to offer and to recognize the collegiality that our profession enjoys in central Indiana (thanks in part to the members of the IndyBar). We hope you (and even the Ferdys of the world) will attend. (Sorry; no basset hounds permitted at Meridian Hills Country Club).•

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