Honorable mentions: Top stories of 2021, continued

Like 2020 before it, 2021 was a year that brought regular waves of breaking news to the Indiana Lawyer news desk. From vaccines to lawsuits to legislation to law firms, it was difficult to narrow down the year’s most important stories. So here are five additional stories that the IL staff thought were noteworthy in 2021.

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COVID continues

As the clock struck midnight on Jan. 1, many hoped the new year would bring a respite from the turmoil of 2020, especially as it related to the COVID-19 pandemic. In some ways that wish came true: Three vaccines became widely available, opening up opportunities to take off masks and regather in larger groups. But at the same time, what government and health officials called the “pandemic of the unvaccinated” led to confusion over how to balance public health with personal liberty. Virus cases were no longer on a near-constant upward trend in 2021; instead, they took the shape of a wave, sometimes rising and other times falling. Amid these fluctuations, employers, lawmakers and courts are trying to discern the constitutionality of vaccine mandates. In Indiana, lawmakers are ending 2021 by considering legislation that would require employers to grant mandate exemptions to religious objectors, no questions asked.

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CASA contract change

In a seemingly sudden move, the City of Indianapolis’ Office of Public Health and Safety in April switched the provider of Marion County’s guardian ad litem and court-appointed special advocate services. Child Advocates had provided those services since 1982, but starting May 1, the contract went to Kids’ Voice of Indiana. The city said its decision was based on a financial analysis of Child Advocates’ services, specifically as it related to cost overruns. But Child Advocates sought to defend the contract, noting its expenses were always reviewed annually. Kids’ Voice and Child Advocates then tried to negotiate an agreement to provide the GAL/CASA services together, but those talks fell apart. Kids’ Voice officially took over the contract in May and earned the state’s GAL/CASA certification in October, allowing the city to receive partial reimbursement for the $5.4 million contract.

While Child Advocates refocused its programming, Kids’ Voice ballooned to 95 employees, primarily attorneys, and more than 250 volunteers. Kids’ Voice said the additional programming was an enhancement to the services it already had
been offering.

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Evictions and unemployment

In 2020, the pandemic-induced economic downturn led state and federal governments to impose eviction and foreclosure moratoriums to protect those who lost their jobs. But the Indiana moratorium ended in August 2020, and the U.S. Supreme Court allowed federal evictions to resume in August 2021. Meanwhile, Gov. Eric Holcomb in May 2021 sought to end the state’s participation in a federal program that provided enhanced unemployment payments during the pandemic. Holcomb said Indiana had jobs that needed to be filled, but a lawsuit filed by a legal aid group said taking away the federal funds could cause further harm to Hoosiers already facing eviction. The Court of Appeals of Indiana upheld the governor’s decision to withdraw from the federal funding, while the Indiana Supreme Court launched an eviction task force and created an eviction diversion program.

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Law firm leadership changes

Several law firms in the Indianapolis area announced new leadership in 2021. Among those firms were Ice Miller, Barnes & Thornburg, Church Church Hittle & Antrim and Hall Render Killian Heath & Lyman. At Barnes, Robert Grand announced in November that he will step down from his position as firm managing partner in November 2022. Litigation partner Andrew Detherage has been selected to succeed him. At Ice Miller, Michael Millikan has been selected to succeed Steven Humke as managing partner starting in January, while Rebecca Seamands will become deputy managing partner. Alexander Pinegar was named managing partner of CCH&A in October, succeeding David Day. And effective Jan. 1, Gregg Wallander will become president and CEO of Hall Render, succeeding longtime president John Ryan. According to legal recruiters and consultants, there is an ongoing trend of law firm leadership changes nationwide as a “war for talent” is fought among top firms.

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Juvenile justice

Hoosier lawmakers have been studying the juvenile justice system for several years, and in 2021, those efforts were beginning to bear fruit. In April, the General Assembly passed Senate Enrolled Act 368, a bill that, among other things, generally prohibits juveniles charged with crimes from being held in adult jails. Courts will retain discretion to place a juvenile in an adult facility, but they must consider several factors before making that placement, which must be reviewed after 180 days. The same month, the Council of State Governments Justice Center released a report identifying six areas in need of reform in Indiana’s juvenile justice system, as well as six recommendations for improving that system. And during the fall months, a task force and legislative study committee independently reviewed issues such as juvenile diversion from the criminal justice system and the long-term costs of a juvenile case. Legislation could follow during the 2022 session of the Indiana General Assembly.•

-Compiled by Olivia Covington

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