Reflecting his engineering roots, J. Mark Robinson offers a straightforward solution for the civil legal puzzle: real lawyers in real courtrooms representing real people on real legal issues.
The formula was developed during the 40 years Robinson spent representing clients and serving as the managing attorney in the New Albany office of Indiana Legal Services. He graduated from Purdue University then worked in the nuclear industry before going to law school. After a handful of years working as in-house counsel followed by a stint as an attorney with the Army Corps of Engineers, he asked former ILS executive director Norman Metzger for a job.
In addition to his career with ILS, Robinson served on the first Indiana Pro Bono Commission, convened in August 1999, and worked for 20 years with two southern Indiana pro bono districts.
“I couldn’t find my calling in corporate law or with the Corps of Engineers. I really found my calling … serving low-income people,” Robinson said. “I have rejoiced in my legal services career.”
The evening of Dec. 8, the Indiana legal profession recognized Robinson and his commitment by honoring him with the Randall T. Shepard Award for Excellence in Pro Bono. Robinson and other select members of the legal profession and educators were honored for their work in either civil legal aid or civic education at the Indiana Bar Foundation’s 2019 Awards Dinner.
Scott Wylie, board member of the Indiana Bar Foundation and director of the Volunteer Lawyer Program of Southwestern Indiana, was the master of ceremonies.
Held at the Crowne Plaza Union Station in downtown Indianapolis, the dinner featured a keynote address by John Tinker, the lead plaintiff in Tinker et al. v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, et al., 393 U.S. 503 (1969), the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling that found students have a right to free speech in public schools.
Tinker was a reminder that through the courts, ordinary people have brought extraordinary changes. Robinson maintains people have the best chance in the courts when they have a lawyer by their side, a belief shared, he said, by his Pro Bono Commission colleague, now-retired Monroe Circuit Judge Viola Taliaferro.
“I think, most of all, it gives a sense of pride to individuals who historically have simply been castigated from society’s norms,” Robinson said of providing legal representation. “They’ve not been treated well historically by the welfare department; they’ve not been treated well in the food stamp lines; they’ve not been treated well at the hospitals. We hope in legal services … that we can really help certain individuals, not all, but certain ones feel that there is really a group of people, namely lawyers, who are committed to helping give (them) a real shake at the American justice system.”
Other attorneys recognized for their work helping low-income clients were Pro Bono Publico Award recipients Madonna McGrath, a volunteer with Indianapolis Legal Aid Society and Rebecca Wyatt, who has served at the Metro Legal Clinic in northwest Indiana.
Also, the trio of Michael Gastineau, associate at Faegre Baker Daniels in Indianapolis, Jessica Hockemeyer, associate at Faegre Baker Daniels in Fort Wayne, and Bloomington solo practitioner Michael Huerta was awarded a Pro Bono Publico Award for their work responding to inquiries submitted to the Indiana Free Legal Answers website. Together, they responded to 250 questions, comprising 37% of all the questions answered.
Robinson was elated by the opportunity to spend an evening with individuals from across the state who also devote a portion of their practice to helping low-income individuals.
“There’s a lot of good out there and folks like this just make you feel it’s good to be part of the legal profession in Indiana,” he said.
The evening included the bar foundation welcoming the 2019 fellows class. The attorney members recognized were Monica Fennell, pro bono manager at Faegre Baker Daniels; Andrew Northern, global director of anti-corruption at Cook Group, Inc.; Alexander Orlowski, associate at Barnes & Thornburg LLP in Indianapolis; David Van Gilder of Fletcher Van Gilder LLP in Fort Wayne; and Greg Zoeller, former attorney general of Indiana.
Also, two judges were in the 2019 class. Allen Superior Judge Wendy Davis, credited with bringing the HOPE Probation program to Allen County and Indiana Court of Appeals Judge Elizabeth Tavitas, who served as chair of Northwest Indiana Volunteer Lawyers, Inc. from 2007 through 2012, were named fellows for their work on access to justice issues.
In the civic education arena, Don Lundberg of Lundberg Legal was honored with the William Baker Award for his work championing the Indiana High School Mock Trial and We the People programs. Also, Indiana House Speaker-elect Todd Houston was recognized with the John Patrick Award for his support of the We the People program.
Scott Barnhart of the Indiana Attorney General’s Office was the only non-teacher to receive a Law-Related Education Award, being recognized for his work in the mock trial program.
Also honored with a Law-Related Education Award were Ethan Mathias for his more than 10 years of mentoring the We the People program at Hamilton Southeastern High School; retired Air Force Col. Maggie Weatherman for starting and building the mock trial program at Cascade High School; and Janice Houghton for serving as Heritage Christian High School’s mock trial program director since 2005.
After the dinner, Houghton listed the benefits mock trial gives to students including analytical thinking and critical reading skills along with the ability to articulate an idea and defend a point of view. She has had some students go on to pursue a legal career, but others have used the skills to win scholarships, become leaders in college and make presentations for doctorial programs.
“I like the fact that it’s an academic competition,” said Houghton, the school librarian. “It appealed to me in the sense that I wish I had an opportunity like that when I was in school, because I am not an athlete, I’m not musically talented. So it’s a nice opportunity for students with different gifts to compete and excel and get the team experience even if they are not very coordinated.”•