Calm, works well with lawyers and litigants, and without a hint of personal or political agendas on the bench.
That’s how colleagues, attorneys and judges describe Matthew Brookman, the newest judge of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana.
A longtime assistant U.S. attorney and an Indiana Southern District magistrate judge since 2016, Brookman is now settling into his new position as district court judge after being confirmed by the U.S. Senate on March 29 and sworn in less than a week later.
In his new role, Brookman said he plans to use his magistrate and U.S. attorney experience to hit the ground running as a federal district judge.
“I think it’s ideal preparation. In my opinion, it is the best preparation for being a district court judge,” Brookman said April 3, the day of his swearing-in ceremony.
Brookman said he owes a lot to now-Senior Judge Richard Young, whose district court position Brookman filled. Young has served as a district judge since 1998, and both he and Brookman keep their primary chambers in Evansville.
“I was certainly pulling for him to be selected,” Young said.
Young has known Brookman since the latter came to work as an assistant U.S. attorney in the early 2000s. He described Brookman as extremely hardworking and someone who, from day one, knew his way around a courtroom.
Young added that Brookman is liked by attorneys and litigants alike and has had a high rate of success in getting cases resolved.
For his part, Brookman said he thinks colleagues would describe him as hardworking, affable, down-to-earth and someone who uses common sense.
“I appreciate the seriousness of the role but try not to take myself too seriously,” he said.
His judicial foundation, he said, is based first and foremost on impartiality and fairness to all litigants. That includes remaining humble in his work and in his treatment of litigants.
Tanya Walton Pratt, chief judge of the Indiana Southern District Court, said she expected Brookman’s transition from magistrate judge to district judge to be a smooth one. She described him as a skillful magistrate with a calm demeanor.
His confirmation brings the Indiana Southern District bench to seven judges, including two senior judges, plus seven magistrates. A search is underway to find Brookman’s successor as a magistrate judge, which will raise the number to eight, for a total of 15 judicial officers.
Even with Brookman’s confirmation, the Indiana Southern District Court will remain one of the busiest in the country, Pratt said.
Based on United States District Courts National Judicial Caseload Profile numbers for the 12-month period ending Dec. 31, 2022, the Indiana Southern District’s 645 weighted filings per judgeship places the court first within the 7th Circuit and seventh nationally in terms of caseloads.
Brookman will be assigned a percentage of cases from other district judges, Pratt said, which will help not only the judges, but also the attorneys and litigants.
Brookman said he will go through a busy transition period, with a whole new caseload assigned to him. His role as a district judge will be slightly different than his role as a magistrate.
Magistrate judges are the first to see attorneys when cases are filed, Young explained, and their job is to help move cases, resolve discovery disputes and work with lawyers to keep cases on track. Also, in previous news releases, the court described a “critical component” of the role of magistrates: “conducting mediation and settlement proceedings in civil cases, helping parties settle their disputes by agreement.”
Brookman’s experience as a magistrate judge gives him a head start on being a district judge, Young said.
Magistrate Judge Tim Baker — whom Brookman also credited as someone who championed him — echoed Young’s comments and noted the differences in the roles means a difference in skill set for a district judge as opposed to a magistrate judge.
For example, as a district judge, Brookman will be in the courthouse more often with more trials, and he will be tasked with applying the Sentencing Guidelines.
“I really think Matt is going to be great as a district judge,” Baker said.
Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond School of Law professor, told Indiana Lawyer that Brookman’s smooth path to confirmation owed a lot to the efforts of Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, and Indiana’s two Republican senators, Todd Young and Mike Braun.
Tobias said Durbin cares about getting federal judicial vacancies filled and worked with Sen. Young and Braun on the Brookman nomination. Also, Braun and Sen. Young were smart about working with Durbin to make sure the Southern District vacancy created by Judge Young’s senior status got filled, he said.
Sen. Young announced his support for Brookman earlier this year and, as Indiana’s senior senator, introduced him at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee in January. Braun also returned a blue slip in Brookman’s favor.
“Judge Brookman has the right experience and judgment for this critical position,” Sen. Young said in a statement after the confirmation vote. “Since his nomination was first announced, an overwhelming amount of support from Hoosiers poured in for Judge Brookman. I am proud to have helped shepherd his nomination through the Senate and look forward to his service.”
Like Tobias, Brookman credited Sen. Young and Braun for helping to advance his nomination, which received bipartisan support — something that is never guaranteed in a sharply divided Senate.
The new district judge acknowledged he didn’t know if that bipartisan cooperation would extend to other federal judicial vacancies that remain unfilled. That includes judicial vacancies in the Northern District of Indiana.
“My smooth process may be an anomaly,” he said.
Brookman first took the bench when he filled a 2016 magistrate judge vacancy created by the retirement of Magistrate Judge William Hussmann. Prior to his appointment to the magistrate bench, he served as an assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Indiana, leading the Southern District U.S. Attorney’s Office’s Evansville branch as office chief as well as chief of the office’s Drug and Violent Crime Unit.
Judge Young said Brookman’s Senate confirmation was popular in the Evansville and southwest Indiana legal circles.
Todd Shellenbarger, an assistant U.S. attorney in the office’s Evansville division, said Brookman has a great deal of experience presenting criminal cases from his time as an assistant U.S. attorney in Evansville. Shellenbarger began working with Brookman in 2002, the year Brookman joined the USAO.
Shellenbarger said Brookman has always had good working relationship with attorneys.
“He’s approachable — just a positive, friendly person,” he said, adding, “I think attorneys do their best work when they’re comfortable working with someone.”
Joe Langerak, president of the Evansville Bar Association, said Brookman has a great judicial temperament, is good to work with and keeps the docket moving.
Langerak said his clients always had the mindset that they would get a fair day in court if Brookman was presiding over their case. That’s because Brookman puts forth a fair application of the law and displays no personal motivations or agendas.
“Sometimes you get that with judges,” Langerak said. “You don’t get that with Judge Brookman.”•