Federal Judge Rudy Lozano, ‘an institution,’ dies at 76

Rudy Lozano served on the federal bench for 30 years, making landmark rulings in a Hammond courtroom that his peers said was known for its collegiality. Before that, Lozano was a leading practitioner who helped unify the legal community in northwest Indiana.

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Senior Judge Rodolfo (Rudy) Lozano, 76, of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, died early Wednesday with his family at his side, the Times of Northwest Indiana reported.

“His passing brings a tear to my eyes,” said Lake Superior Chief Judge John Pera.

Confirmed to the Northern Indiana District Court bench by unanimous consent in 1988 after his appointment by President Ronald Reagan, Lozano was the first Hispanic federal judge appointed in Indiana.

“President Reagan did the legal community and residents of northwest Indiana a service when he appointed Judge Lozano to the District Court,” said longtime Highland attorney J. Michael Katz. “His judgment and judicial temperament will be dearly missed.”

Prior to his ascent to the bench, Lozano had gained a reputation in the local bar as a worthy adversary and straight-shooter, said Katz, who added that trying cases against him was a privilege.

“He always represented his clients with the highest level of dedication and integrity and treated others with respect and a compassionate heart,” Katz said.

One on the bench, Lozano quickly gained a reputation for fair-mindedness, said longtime Lake County plaintiffs attorney Cordell Funk.

“I think most attorneys would say his strongest attribute as a judge was his collegiality and his ability to see all sides of the prism,” Funk said. He said Lozano was known for conducting pretrial meetings with attorneys only in his chambers — a once-common but now relatively unusual practice that Funk said was beneficial for parties and helped the courtroom remain cordial.

“It was a good way to vet the case,” Funk said. Lozano would use the sessions to get an idea of “what he would be looking for, and he got a feeling for what was going to happen” in court. While Funk said those meetings were valuable for the court and for clients, he said he sometimes had to explain to clients why the meetings worked in their favor and assuage their fears that deals were being made behind closed doors.

Before Funk tried cases in Lozano’s court, he also tried cases against him more than 30 years ago when Lozano was a private practitioner, working on the defense side of personal injury cases. Funk recalled him as “an excellent trial attorney and defense attorney. … He was one of those attorneys — you could trust what he said,” Funk said. “You could take it to the bank. Unfortunately, that’s not always true.”

While Lozano and Funk were on opposite sides of several cases and issues when both were private practitioners, they did find common ground that also united the bar in northwest Indiana. The two were part of an effort that led to more than a dozen local and ethnic bar groups consolidating into the Lake County Bar Association in 1986. Funk was the LCBA’s first president.

“Before his health started failing, he always made bar functions and always sought out attorneys,” Funk said. “When he took the bench, he missed the interaction with attorneys on a day-to-day basis.”

Lake County Bar Association Past President Adam Sedia said it’s hard to overstate Lozano’s legacy to the Region’s bench and bar. He said Lozano was influential in the development of the law as one of two federal jurists in Hammond and also was a founder of the Calumet American Inn of Court.

“Judge Lozano is an institution up here,” Sedia said.

He said the decision for which Lozano is likely best known is Back v. Carter, 933 F. Supp. 738 (N.D. Ind. 1996). This ruling struck down gender and racial quotas the Indiana General Assembly had enacted for the Lake County Judicial Nominating Commission, which nominates judges for the Lake County trial court bench, as constitutionally defective. Lozano granted an injunction blocking the law from taking effect, and his ruling was not appealed.

Lozano also more recently presided over one of the largest federal jury damages awards ever returned against a state agency. That was the case of Roman Finnegan, et al. v. Laurel Myers, et al., 3:08-CV-503,  in which a jury awarded more than $31 million to a family whose children were wrongly removed by the Department of Child Services. The state agreed to settle that suit after the jury trial for $25 million.

In his later years, Lozano lived with with debilitating complications of diabetes, acquaintances said, but he continued to carry out his duties as a senior judge.

Pera, who knew Lozano for decades, said the judge will be remembered for his work on the bench, as an attorney and more.

“He was a thoughtful and courageous practitioner of the law, and then as a well-respected judge. He would always take the time to help lawyers in the practice and lending a helping hand with many charities,” Pera said. “We will miss him.”

According to the Northern District clerk’s office, arrangements are pending.

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