Floyd Co. Judge Granger shares how to ‘bring justice’ in civil legal aid speech

  • Print
The new Indiana Bar Foundation logo, unveiled in December 2021.

For nearly 20 minutes Thursday morning, Floyd County Judge Maria Granger commanded the attention of some 250 attendees at the Indiana Bar Foundation’s 2023 Civil Legal Assistance Conference as she told personal family stories that related back to the thing Granger said she needs like air: justice.

“My heartbeat,” Granger said, “it really boils down to two people who’ve touched my life.”

First was the man Granger affectionately called Uncle Fox, who had served in the Vietnam War and returned home without the support he probably needed.

He was drinking too much, Granger said, and got picked up for drinking in public.

“Before my grandfather could even get there to bond him out, take him home and dry him out,” she said, “my uncle was gone.”

He was beaten while in custody, Granger said, and died from his injuries.

“I asked why his handlers couldn’t see his humanity,” Granger said.

Uncle Fox, she said, may have needed treatment for alcohol abuse, or therapy to deal with his stress, or a job and his own place to live.

So when Granger was a 17-year-old senior in high school, she said she put her plans to study music on hold and knew she was going to become a lawyer.

“I wanted to put my energy into aligning what is legal with what is right,” Granger said. “I needed justice like I needed air.”

Granger became a judge in 2009, about three years after another tragedy.

Granger’s stepson, Sgt. Steven Mennemeyer, was killed in action during his second tour in Iraq in 2006.

As a judge, Granger said she started seeing young men and women come into her court, and they reminded her of Steven.

“I knew there was no more we could do for the ones who died over there,” she said, “but we could surely do better by the ones who came home.”

Fundamental to civil legal assistance, Granger said, is the idea that everyone is equal under the law — whether someone needs therapy because of repeated exposure to firefights or they have a landlord dispute over a clogged toilet.

“We should be able to get — and expect to get — fair and just results in the court,” she said.

Granger’s speech at Ivy Tech Community College in Indianapolis kicked off the bar foundation’s 2023 Civil Legal Assistance Conference, which also included continuing legal education events and a reception.

The bar foundation also honored Kim Latimore and Marilyn Smith with awards for their pro bono work.

Latimore is the bar foundation’s office manager and a liaison to the Indiana State Bar Association’s Pro Bono Committee; Smith is senior counsel for the bar foundation.

Organizers said there were a record number of attendees this year. The conference began in 2016.

In addition to knowledge of the law and applying the law, Granger said empathy and access are important keys in civil legal aid.

“You can bring justice when the law doesn’t quite meet what is right by showing empathy,” she said.

Empathy, however, isn’t automatic, Grander said she’s learned. Instead, she called it a choice — “albeit a vulnerable one.”

“To connect with you,” she said, “I must be present with you and connect with something inside myself that knows that feeling to show you empathy.”

Addressing access, Granger turned to poetry from James Baldwin, whom she said “eloquently” makes a case for addressing problems as people experience them.

“To really know if our system is working or not, we must listen to what the people say,” Granger said. “We must listen when they tell us their story.”

Please enable JavaScript to view this content.

{{ articles_remaining }}
Free {{ article_text }} Remaining
{{ articles_remaining }}
Free {{ article_text }} Remaining Article limit resets on
{{ count_down }}