Elkhart Circuit Judge Michael Christofeno was content to let his son, Jon, find his own path.
A lawyer for more than 30 years and a judge since 2016, Christofeno did not steer Jon to the law, but nevertheless, during the 2018 Fall Admission Ceremony, the judge was visibly proud to see his son — and his daughter-in-law, Kayla — become lawyers.
“I could not be more thrilled that they have chosen to follow a career in the law,” Christofeno said. “I think that they will take to heart giving back to the community and try to make Elkhart County a better place.”
Christofeno could not devote all his energies to playing the proud parent at the ceremony. He and Vigo Circuit Judge Sarah Mullican — who welcomed her daughter, Katherine, to the profession — had to administer the oath to all the new admittees.
“I encouraged her to go to law school. I think Katie can make a big difference, particularly with her interest in public health,” Mullican said, noting her daughter worked for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for two years before enrolling in law school. “I think her real interest is in public health, and I’m confident she can do a lot of good.”
The 2018 swearing-in had a definite family feel as leaders in the Indiana legal profession prompted the new attorneys to remember to be polite, to listen and to always help others whenever they can.
Before taking their oaths in the Sagamore Ballroom of the Indiana Convention Center in downtown Indianapolis, 252 introduced themselves individually to the Indiana Supreme Court justices, as well as to the judges from the Indiana Court of Appeals, Indiana Tax Court and the federal courts.
As she began her remarks, Indiana Chief Justice Loretta Rush reminded the new attorneys they did not achieve their goal of becoming lawyers by themselves. She had the admittees stand, turn around and thank their family and friends who were helping them celebrate.
“You would not be here today without the support and, yes, even the suffering of those in the back half of the room,” Rush told them. “Let’s acknowledge those who contributed to your admission to the bar.”
Jon Christofeno said he was inspired by watching his dad practice the law. The younger Christofeno went to Purdue, where he met Kayla, then the pair enrolled in his father’s alma mater, Valparaiso University Law School.
“I’ve always liked helping people,” the younger Christofeno said. “I felt with my skill set and what I’m good at, this was the best avenue to do that.”
After the admission ceremony, the Christofeno family returned to northern Indiana, where the new lawyers began their jobs on opposing sides. Jon has a position with the Elkhart County Public Defender Office and Kayla is working in the Elkhart County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.
Katherine Mullican was able to have lunch with her parents but then had to return to the Indiana Court of Appeals, where she is clerking for Judge Margret Robb. Mullican’s interest in the law started at home, where, in addition to her mother, her father, Mark, is also an attorney at Mullican Law Firm in Terre Haute.
Still, before starting classes at Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis, Mullican took a two-year fellowship with the CDC. She worked in Maryland, then went to Sierra Leone in West Africa to be part of the Ebola response team.
Mullican plans to work in public health law, but she took time to enjoy the admission ceremony and savor becoming an attorney. Having her mom co-administer the oath was an unexpected surprise.
“It was a huge honor,” she said. “It was perfect.”
The other judges offered the new attorneys advice on civility, integrity and problem-solving.
Court of Appeals Judge John Baker told the new lawyers to volunteer their talents and think how they can serve their communities, state and nation, because opportunities abound for lawyers to apply their problems-solving skills. Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill said he hoped they would work hard not just to serve their clients, but also to serve the greater good.
Magistrate Judge John E. Martin of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana read the poem “The Man in the Glass” by Dale Wimbrow to underscore to the new attorneys the importance of being polite and civil in their personal and professional lives.
Chief Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana left the new lawyers with the choice to be lawyers who either solve or create problems.
“So from time to time, just to make sure that you’re doing what you should, ask yourself, ‘Does this action solve a problem or cause a problem?’” Magnus-Stinson said. “If it’s the former, full speed ahead. If it’s the latter, you better change course.”
Rush closed the ceremony by asking the new lawyers to think ahead 50 years to when they will be getting ready to retire. When that time comes, Rush said they should consider how they will want to answer two questions: What role did I play in solving the problems of society, and how did I carry out those responsibilities?
“At the dawning of a great career, you should also consider the sum of it, as well,” the chief justice said. “How you answer those dual questions about roles and responsibilities will shape how you as a lawyer will help solve the pressing problems that our communities face.”•