IBF honors civic education, access to justice volunteers

Ten years ago, attorney Stephenie Gookins convinced her colleagues in the Hamilton County Bar Association to get more involved with the local mock trial program.

The program had dwindled to three teams and little excitement, but the association provided the funding and bar members provided the energy. As a result, the Hamilton County Mock Trial Competition has blossomed into 13 teams with 50 to 75 attorneys, along with county judges volunteering countless hours every school year to help students prepare and present their cases.

For its work in promoting civic education, the Hamilton County Bar Association was recognized by the Indiana Bar Foundation Sunday evening during the 2018 Awards Dinner. The association received a Law-Related Education Award from the foundation.

Gookins, of Cate Terry & Gookins LLC in Carmel, accepted the honor but was quick to give the credit to the legal professionals in her community

“I think they are inspired by the students,” she said. “Some of the performances that these students do once they learn the case are incredible. These attorneys are going in and helping these kids who strive to be the absolute best they can be, and it is not uncommon comment for these attorneys who are judging to tell the students that, ‘Your performance is better than many of our opposing counsel, better than many counsel who appear in front of us.’”

The dinner brought together about 150 lawyers and judges from around the state, including Justices Steven David and Geoffrey Slaughter, to celebrate the accomplishments of their colleagues. Gathered in the Grand Hall of the Historic Union Station in Indianapolis, they honored those who volunteered to advance the foundation’s core mission of civic education and access to justice.  

Scott Wylie, a member of the Indiana Bar Foundation Board and director of the Volunteer Lawyer Program of Southwestern Indiana, was the emcee for the event.

Hamilton County was not the only group to be recognized. The Evansville Bar Association was also given a Law-Related Education Award. The southern Indiana association has successfully bid to host the National High School Mock Trial competition in 2020 and is continuing preparations for the event, which will bring hundreds of high school students from around the country to Indiana.

In addition, the Fort Wayne office of Faegre Baker Daniels LLP received a Pro Bono Publico Award. The office has contributed more than 100 hours to Indiana Free Legal Answers, an online service that provides legal assistance to Hoosiers, in the last two years and more than 1,000 attorney pro bono hours in 2017.

Karen Moses, a partner in the commercial litigation group and member of the firm’s pro bono advisory group, highlighted her colleagues’ generosity along with the law firm’s emphasis on volunteerism.

“Fort Wayne is a wonderful place,” Moses said. “People there are unique, we help each other, we care about each other, we are a very close-knit office. We have a lot of people who care about the community they live in and want to give something back to the community both as residents of Fort Wayne and as attorneys.”

Among the lawyers who volunteered is Sarah Noack, an associate in Faegre’s employment and labor practice group. She has turned her attention to veterans and, along with Moses, was able to get one service member an upgrade from a dishonorable to a general discharge, which enabled him to start receiving medical benefits.

“In a way, it’s giving back because we’ve been given so much,” Noack said of what inspired her to volunteer. “…It’s just being able to give something back to veterans, people that have given so much for us.”

Individual honorees for their support of the civic education programs were: Carl Hayes, partner at Bingham Greenebaum Doll LLP, who received the William Baker Award; Chris Cavanaugh, the teacher who founded Plainfield High School’s We the People program and who received the John Patrick Award, and; Robert Leming, who has served for 20 years at the director of the We the People program and who received a Law-Related Education Award.

Also, Leslie Parrish, who has volunteered more than 1,000 hours at the Indiana Legal Services Low-Income Tax Clinic since 2015, received a Pro Bono Publico Award. Additionally, Delaware Circuit Judge Kimberly Dowling received the Randall T. Shepard Award for Excellence in Pro Bono for her work in helping low-income litigants and in opening the self-help center in the Delaware County Courthouse.  

Finally, the 2018 Fellows were: Edward Beck, founding partner of Shambaugh Kast Beck & Williams, LLP in Fort Wayne; Catheryne Pully, director of outreach and partnerships for the Indiana State Bar Association; Marion Superior Judge Heather Welch, and; Judge Richard Young of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana.

During the evening, the bar foundation announced a new endowment devoted to the We the People program. The William and Jane Baker Endowed Fund was formed with $170,000 from the estate of the late New Castle attorney William Baker and his wife, Jane. Baker helped create the We the People program, which teaches students about the Constitution.

Charles Dunlap, the executive director of the Indiana Bar Foundation, said the endowment money will go toward removing some of the financial barriers teams face when competing at state and national levels. The funds will help cover expenses such as transportation and hotel stays.

“The thing that would just break our hearts is if we had to say, ‘Well, you’re smart enough, but you just don’t have enough money,’” Dunlap said. “That’s never a position we want to be in. We want to reward the kids that work hard and are able to compete and make the state competition.”

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