Miller, Watson to receive distinguished legal service awards

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The exterior of the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law. (IL file photo)

A federal judge and a retired professor at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law alumni will be honored this summer with awards for their distinguished legal service.

Senior Judge Robert L. Miller Jr. of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, a 1975 graduate of the Indianapolis law school, and professor emerita Fran Watson, a 1980 graduate, will receive the American Inns of Court Professionalism Award for the Seventh Circuit, according to the law school.

Both will be honored at the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals’ annual conference, which will take place in late August in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.

The American Inns of Court Professionalism Award honors “a lawyer or judge whose life and practice display sterling character and unquestioned integrity, coupled with ongoing dedication to the highest standards of the legal profession and the rule of law.”

Judge Robert Miller Jr.

Appointed by President Ronald Reagan, Miller has been on the bench in the Indiana Northern District since 1985.

He served as chief judge from 2003 through 2010 and took senior status in 2016.

Among his professional achievements, Miller was appointed to the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review by Chief Justice John Roberts in July 2020. He has also been a member of the Judicial Panel for Multidistrict Litigation, the 7th Circuit representative on the Judicial Conference of the United States and a member of the board of directors for the Federal Judges’ Association. Additionally, he continues to chair the Seventh Circuit Pattern Civil Jury Instructions Committee.

Miller has spent his legal career on the bench, apart from the year he spent working as a clerk, having served as a St. Joseph Superior Court judge for 11 years prior to taking the federal bench.

The South Bend courtroom where Miller presides was named The Robert Lowell Miller, Jr. Courtroom in his honor in January 2022.

He received an Indiana University bicentennial medal in November 2020.

“Our law school community is delighted to see a graduate of IU McKinney who has served with distinction as a jurist throughout his career be honored in this way,” Dean Karen Bravo said in a news release. “Judge Miller brings pride to IU McKinney.”

Fran Watson

Watson retired as a professor at IU McKinney in December 2022, concluding her nearly 30-year career as director of the Wrongful Conviction Clinic at IU McKinney.

She started her legal career as a deputy public defender in the Marion County Public Defender Agency. She then served as assistant corporation counsel for the city of Indianapolis for five years before beginning her career at IU McKinney as a clinic supervisor.

She was a visiting assistant professor for two years before serving as the chief public defender of the Marion County Public Defender Agency. During her time leading the public defender’s office, she served as an adjunct professor teaching trial advocacy at the law school.

Watson then returned to the law school to serve as the director of the Wrongful Conviction Clinic, which is a founding member of the Innocence Network.

Watson has received many honors during her teaching career, including the law school’s Teaching Excellence Award, the Indiana University Trustee Teaching Award twice, the IU McKinney Faculty Leadership Award and the Inspiration Award from the law school’s faculty executive committee. Also, she was an honoree at one of the law school’s Equal Justice Works Public Interest Recognition Dinners, was named IU McKinney’s Outstanding Alumna of the Year and received a campus Women’s History Month Annual Leadership award.

Outside the university, Watson has received the Indiana State Bar Women in the Law Award and the Michael McDaniel Indiana Public Defender Commission Spirit of Justice Award. In addition, Indiana Lawyer named her a Leadership in Law Distinguished Barrister in 2016.

Bravo will present the award to Watson during the August ceremony.

“Our law school celebrates Professor Emerita Fran Watson’s receipt of this prestigious recognition,” Bravo said. “Her tireless work on behalf of her clients has been an inspiration to all members of our community, and she has provided lifelong lessons for our students to follow.”

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