Late Judge McKinney honored in anniversary celebration

In honor of the 10th anniversary of its federal courthouse in Terre Haute, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana has hung the portrait of the man who was key to getting the judicial outpost built and who devoted great effort to helping former federal inmates re-enter society: the late Judge Larry J. McKinney.

The federal judiciary has had a courthouse in Vigo County since 1887. However, when the 1935 Art Deco-style structure was turned over to Indiana State University in 2007, some questioned whether the federal courts still needed to have a brick-and-mortar presence there.

McKinney, who served as chief judge of the Southern Indiana District from 2001 to 2007, had no doubt. He wanted a federal courthouse in Terre Haute because not only are federal and state prisons located close to the community, but also, the federal judiciary in Southern Indiana handles a high number of prisoner case filings.

Consequently, federal and state officials gathered in November 2009 to dedicate a new courthouse, which was built at 921 Ohio St.

At the ceremony, McKinney compared the process of getting the courthouse built to “pulling Excalibur out of the stone.” He credited the work of many people in helping to build the structure and, in particular, gave special praise to Laura Briggs, clerk of the court for the Southern Indiana District, as the “smartest damn clerk in the United States.”

McKinney died suddenly Sept. 20, 2017, at the age of 73. His portrait will remain on display at the federal courthouse in Terre Haute through the end of the year.

“Our divisional locations are critical to the court’s ability to administer justice to citizens throughout the Southern District of Indiana,” Chief Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson said in a statement. “…We remain grateful to Judge McKinney and our Clerk of Court, Laura Briggs, for their tireless efforts to keep the federal judiciary in Terre Haute, and we look forward to many more years serving the people of Vigo and surrounding counties.”

In addition to his work inside the courtroom, McKinney also expanded the impact of the federal judiciary. He was the driving force behind the Southern Indiana District’s REACH (Re-Entry And Community Help) program, which brings together judges, probation officials, law professors, law students and others to cut through bureaucratic red tape, find resources, and offer encouragement to individuals who are re-entering society after being released from incarceration. The program has continued to grow and inspire since McKinney’s death.

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