Collaboration and community: Foley joins Court of Appeals; takes Morgan Co. roots with him

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Morgan Superior Judge Peter Foley has been appointed to the Court of Appeals of Indiana by Gov. Eric Holcomb. (IL photo/Katie Stancombe)

Had you asked Morgan Superior Judge Peter Foley in 1997 if he thought that he would eventually become a judge on the Court of Appeals of Indiana, the short answer would be — no.

Foley said he knew as a young law school graduate that he would return home to Martinsville to practice law with his father. Now, 25 years later, he said he’s excited and deeply humbled to be chosen as the newest member of the Court of Appeals of Indiana in Indianapolis.

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb announced Foley’s appointment to the Court of Appeals on Sept. 14. He’ll succeed longtime Judge Edward Najam Jr., who retired this summer after more than 30 years of judicial service.

“As you move through your career, you have opportunities that become more of a reality,” Foley said, chuckling to himself. “This was not the career path I had always envisioned for myself.”

Foley applied to the appellate bench when he heard of the vacancy, knowing that such opportunities don’t come often.

“I am completely satisfied and content with the job I have,” he said of his Morgan County post. “I wasn’t trying to run from something, but take a step toward an opportunity. If I don’t take up the opportunity, I’ll never know.”

Taking a chance

Serving the constituents of his hometown has been Foley’s pleasure since 2015, when he first joined the Morgan Superior Court bench. His roots run deep in Morgan County, where his father and grandfather both practiced law and earned an unwavering reputation among the community.

After Foley earned his law degree at Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law, he joined the family firm of Foley, Foley & Peden in Martinsville, originally founded by his grandfather in 1930.

Foley said he always knew he’d pursue a career in the law. It’s the family business, after all, he noted.

“I saw the lifestyle my father had,” he said. “That was a big impression on me, being able work in a profession that was well-regarded in the community and being actively involved in the community but still be home and be present.”

Ralph Foley

Ralph Foley had nothing but proud words to say of his son’s appellate appointment. The now-retired attorney and former Indiana lawmaker described his son as calm, collegial and collaborative with an even disposition and good sense of humor.

“From the perspective of a parent, we are very proud and happy for him in achieving his goal,” the senior Foley said. “He was a wonderful partner and a great contributor. He served his people and our clients well.”

‘Tremendously missed’

Upon graduation from law school, Foley served as a part-time public defender, jumped into private practice and worked as the attorney for Morgan County from 2001 to 2014. He was elected to the Morgan Superior Court in 2014 and reelected in 2020.

Since then, he’s served on the Morgan County Community Corrections Advisory Council and helped establish a 90-day intensive residential drug treatment program within the county jail. He also obtained funding for Morgan County’s Mediation Project to provide mediation services for low-income parties, and has helped streamline and automate the jury selection process, allowing the court system to reduce costs and reallocate resources.

People who know Foley best say the driving factor behind everything he does is his passion for his community, fostering its potential and strengthening its people.

“I have really been blessed,” he said. “The bittersweet nature is leaving the people you hold in high regard.”

Dakota VanLeeuwen

When Morgan County Bar Association President Dakota VanLeeuwen heard Holcomb introduce Foley as the newest appellate judge during the livestreamed announcement, she screamed at her computer in excitement.

“I’m not surprised because he is so perfect for the position,” VanLeeuwen said. “Foley has the perfect demeanor and I think he will thrive as a Court of Appeals judge. It’s an honor to have such talent come from
Morgan County.”

VanLeeuwen, who leads the collective group of Morgan County’s legal professionals and judicial officers, said Foley is well-loved by the bar association and the community at large. He’s no stranger to going above and beyond for their benefit, she said.

She cited his fun and memorable National Adoption Day celebrations in his court as one example of his dedication to improving the lives of those around him.

“He makes it the best day ever for these kids who have sat in foster care for a very long time,” VanLeeuwen said. “The Court of Appeals has gained a major asset and we could not be more honored to give away our judge who will be tremendously missed in our community.”

Josh Messmer, county administrator for Morgan County, has worked with Foley on a variety of criminal justice initiatives. Messmer said that in a field where it’s easy to get jaded, Foley consistently cares about the families and victims in his court.

“He really tries to balance all of those tensions as we think about how to make criminal justice better in our community,” Messmer said.

The county official said he’s also impressed with Foley’s thoughtfulness in his holistic approach to improving Morgan County. The two have collaborated on the county’s new courts building project, where Messmer said Foley has been an asset in considering future court needs like improved technology and easier flow for litigants.

“Selfishly, from the county’s perspective, we’re sad to see him go,” Messmer said. “Wherever he goes, he’s going to excel.”

Judge Peter Foley high-fives an adopted child in his Morgan County courtroom in celebration of National Adoption Day. (Photo courtesy of Judge Peter Foley)

Continual learning

Foley’s last day at the Morgan Superior Court will be Oct. 7 and he will officially begin his appellate journey on Oct. 11. A robing ceremony date will be announced.

He described his judicial philosophy as one of originalist thought with a strong sense of the need for separation of powers. He said doesn’t have a particular favorite type of case to preside over but appreciates the broad variety of cases that appear before his bench.

“It might otherwise be characterized as the mundane, day-to-day cases, but something within it, you can see a spark from somebody if they’ve grown or they’ve taken something out of that case,” Foley said.

As his ascension to the appellate court draws closer, Foley said he’s excited for an increased volume of intellectually stimulating cases and the camaraderie with his fellow appellate court judges.

“Through the Appeals on Wheels, community outreach, leadership with the judiciary and the dynamics of working with people who share your vision of supporting the legal community in Indiana and to be able to work with them as colleagues, is exciting,” he said.

“I’m continually learning. I don’t anticipate that changing,” he continued. “Whether it’s a case or a committee you’re working on, you’re going to learn from the others involved. I think that’s important. You’ve got to be willing to learn and understand that none of us knows it all.”•

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