As chief judge of one of the nation’s busiest federal courts, Hon. Jane Magnus-Stinson has built a remarkable judicial reputation while also holding fast to the profession’s touchstones of civility and justice. She was appointed to the federal bench nearly a decade ago after years in private practice, as an adviser to former Gov. Evan Bayh and as a Marion Superior Court judge. She remains highly active in bar, education and community activities — a natural leader in Indiana’s legal community.
What advice would you give someone in law school who aspires to become a judge?
Hone your skills in litigation, advocacy and writing. Make sure a governor or United States senator is aware of your work ethic and professional skills
When you were in law school, did you see yourself as a federal judge?
Not at all. But I did intern in federal court, and I really enjoyed the experience. I remember shadowing Judge Toni Cordingley in Marion Municipal Court, as well. Two very different experiences, but both played a part in piquing my interest in serving on the bench.
When did you first decide you would become a lawyer, and what motivated you?
I worked for a year between college and law school. I felt that my job was taking advantage of the poor or disadvantaged as opposed to helping them, and that motivated me to go to law school.
What was your most memorable job before becoming an attorney?
I worked for a landscaping company the summer before law school, attending to the parks just north of the federal courthouse. I was fit and tan and stress-free — the good old days.
What’s been the most rewarding aspect of being a federal judge?
I am most rewarded by the ability to fulfill my oath: to administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich.
And the most challenging?
Balancing performance of my duties as chief judge of our district with the efficient management of my hefty caseload.
Who is someone who inspired or mentored you, and what did you learn from them?
My mom taught me how to be a friend, and my dad taught me how to have integrity. My husband and children have taught and are teaching me how to love unconditionally. Robert F. Wagner taught me how to be a litigator, and Patricia Gifford taught me how to be a judge. The judges of the Southern District of Indiana have taught me how to be a colleague.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Lighten up, and don’t graduate from college a year early.
If you could change one law, what would that be?
Amend Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, so that if a motion is denied, the movant pays the opponent’s fees and costs and takes two pro bono cases.
What’s something about you not many people know?
If I told you, then people would know! I am related to Alexander Hamilton, so says my great grandmother’s DAR records!
What’s your advice to a younger person who’s thinking about a legal career?
A legal education provides a versatile foundation for many endeavors. The law is the preeminent way a person can change the world.
What do you most enjoy doing when you’re not in the office?
Spending time with my family and girlfriends, walking my dog, and attending concerts, plays and sporting events.•