Michael B. Cracraft has been a leader in utility law for years. While he’s no stranger to tax law and other complex litigation, he also has provided pro bono service for “Dreamers.” As a founder of Friends of White River in 1985, he took a leading role in advocating for protection of one of Indianapolis’ most vital natural resources.
What has been your most memorable case?
Before my practice became primarily focused on utilities law, I also represented tax clients before the Indiana Department of Revenue. After conflicts were waived, I had the opportunity to represent the department in a class action seeking refunds from the State based on a claim that the Indiana intangibles tax was unconstitutional. Opposing counsel from Washington, D.C. had already succeeded in having the intangibles tax laws in several other states declared unconstitutional. The Indiana Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court had sustained a virtually identical version of the Indiana intangibles tax against a Commerce Cause challenge in 1912. Despite that precedent, the Marion Superior Court certified a class of all persons who had paid the Indiana intangibles tax since 1981 and then declared the intangibles tax unconstitutional, relying upon more recent Commerce Clause tax cases decided by federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court. The state’s potential liability for intangibles tax refunds exceeded $300 million, plus accrued interest. The department appealed the trial court’s decision directly to the Indiana Supreme Court, which reversed the lower court in May 1991, finding the “modern [intangibles] tax is substantially like the tax at issue in 1912.” The plaintiff class then filed a petition for a writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court citing several other intangibles tax Commerce Clause cases that were pending before or had been recently decided by that court. During the pendency of the case, the Indiana General Assembly repealed the Indiana Intangibles Tax statute and the cert petition ultimately was dismissed after attorneys’ fees were paid to the plaintiff class attorneys from an escrow of intangibles taxes. That ended a challenging piece of litigation that began in 1984 and ended over seven years later.
What was your most memorable job before becoming an attorney?
Executive secretary of the Indiana State Scholarship Commission while attending law school.
When did you first decide you would become a lawyer, and what motivated you?
My father was an attorney and my younger brother was in the same law school class with me. My sister also became an attorney. I thought about becoming an oceanographer when I was a senior in college, but Indiana is too far away from the ocean and I had a family to support.
How did you get interested in utility law?
Early in my career as an associate attorney, a partner in the firm suggested that I work on a rate case for a gas utility that was about to be filed with the Public Service Commission of Indiana. That led to my interest in utility law and representation of that client and other utilities in rate and financing cases before the Commission.
How do you see the legal profession changing in the next decade?
Ten years is a very long time due to the rapidity of technological change in our country and around the world. I think use of technology and AI will continue apace. It is hard to tell now how the legal profession will change in the future, but it certainly will continue to change, and as long as Congress and state legislatures meet every year and pass laws, there should be work for lawyers interpreting laws and regulations. The delivery and pricing of legal services also will likely change from current models.
How has the practice of law changed since you became a lawyer?
We used to use books for research and maintained paper in files. We prepared letters on fancy letterhead using IBM typewriters and mailed those letters through the U.S. Post Office. Then, along came word processors and WordPerfect and now Word. Today, nearly everyone carries a powerful computer in the form of a smartphone. As a result, we are almost always connected to the office and accessible to clients. Virtually everything we do in the practice of law is in one form or another electronic with computers, smartphones, emails and text messages.
Who is someone who inspired or mentored you, and what did you learn from them?
Robert D. Morgan, a name partner in Smith Morgan & Ryan, where I began my law practice. He was a great lawyer and a pleasure to work with. He emphasized integrity in the practice and mentored me, especially with the importance of legal writing.
What’s been the most rewarding aspect of your practice?
Longtime relationships with clients and assisting them in solving their legal problems.
What got you hooked on fly fishing?
I have always loved fishing. However, many years ago, when my grandmother passed away, I asked one of my law firm colleagues if he could help with the estate. He liked to hunt and did some fishing. I researched fly fishing in a catalog in order to get him a rod and reel. In the course of learning about fly fishing, I bought an outfit for myself, joined the Indianapolis Flycasters and became addicted to the sport. I tie my own flies and use them as often as I can. Fly fishing provides some exercise, and helps me get away from computers and the phone.
Aside from fly fishing, what do you most enjoy doing when you’re not in the office?
Spending quality time with my spouse, children and four granddaughters.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Make more time for the family.
What’s something about you not many people know?
I will get back to you on that one.