Senior COA Judge Michael Barnes dies, leaving public service legacy

Senior Indiana Court of Appeals Judge Michael Barnes died Friday morning in South Bend, leaving a legacy of more than 40 years in public service.

His death was confirmed by the St. Joseph County Bar Association and the CASIE Center.


Barnes served as the elected prosecutor of St. Joseph County for more than two decades before being appointed to the appellate bench in 2000. He retired from the Court of Appeals June 15, 2018, and then became a senior judge.

When he was stepping down from the bench, Barnes said the thing he would miss the most was the ability to impact people’s lives.

A large part of his impact is seen at the CASIE – Child Abuse Services Investigation and Education – Center in South Bend. Barnes spearheaded the effort to create the center, which brought under one roof the local agencies and services treating victims of child abuse.

When the organization celebrated its 25th anniversary last year, it honored Barnes.

Carolyn Hahn, executive director of the CASIE Center, explained that prior to Barnes’ effort, none of the agencies collaborated, so children would have to recount their trauma over and over to the Indiana Department of Child Services, law enforcement, medical professionals and prosecuting attorneys. Along the way, the youngsters might change their stories, adopting the terminology used by the adults, which would then lead to questions about their credibility.

Barnes saw the problem and created the CASIE Center with the mission of protecting children, Hahn said.

“No matter what, the children are first,” Hahn said of Barnes’ approach. “We had to do it right from the very beginning. He was for the children.”

Barnes was a native of Illinois and came to Indiana to study for his J.D. at the University of Notre Dame Law School. Following graduation in 1973, he stayed in South Bend, joining the law firm of Voor, Jackson, McMichael and Allen.

In 1978, he was elected St. Joseph County prosecutor and retained that position until he was appointed to the Court of Appeals in 2000 by the late Gov. Frank O’Bannon. At the time of his retirement, he had written more than 2,800 opinions.

“I was not the regular fit,” Barnes said of his path to the appellate court. “I never was a judge before this, but I believe I did bring some perspective and added something to the court.”

During his time as prosecutor, Barnes created a domestic and family violence unit in the office to focus solely on crimes against women and children. He also collected more than $100 million in delinquent child support payments, for which he received state and national recognition.

Also, he personally tried more than 25 murder and other major felony cases. A misdemeanor case he filed against the dancers at the Kitty Kat Lounge and Glen Theatre in South Bend went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in Barnes v. Glen Theatre, 501 U.S. 560 (1991), and eventually to an off-Broadway venue.

The women at the lounge were cited for dancing completely nude in violation Indiana’s public indecency statute. They countered by asserting their First Amendment rights to free expression.

After arguments before the nine justices that included discussions about pasties and G-strings, the high court ruled in a 5-4 decision that Indiana’s restriction on totally nude dancing was not a violation of the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of expression.

In 2013, The Elevator Repair Service theater company in New York turned the transcript of the oral arguments into a play, “Arguendo.”  

Following his retirement from the Court of Appeals, Barnes indulged in his love of baseball and especially the Cleveland Indians.

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