Smith recognized for civil legal aid advocacy at IBF retirement ceremony

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Indiana Bar Foundation Senior Counsel Marilyn Smith was honored Monday night at a retirement ceremony for her work with the foundation and involvement with IBF’s civil legal assistance programs. (IL photo/Daniel Carson)

For Marilyn Smith, civil legal aid is a personal passion.

“Our ability to have a strong civil justice system is a foundation of our country,” Smith, the Indiana Bar Foundation’s senior counsel, said Monday.

Indiana Supreme Court justices, Court of Appeals of Indiana judges and bar foundation members came together Monday to honor Smith, who is retiring at the end of the year.

Smith has worked with hundreds of individuals as well as groups like the Coalition for Court Access and the Indiana Supreme Court to facilitate partnerships between the legal community, nonprofit organizations and government entities. She has been known for her ability to bridge gaps and foster understanding among diverse stakeholders and has been pivotal in creating a unified front against systemic barriers to justice, according to the bar foundation.

Smith — who has been with the foundation for almost a decade — has been instrumental in many of the foundation’s civil legal aid initiatives, Chuck Dunlap, president and CEO of IBF, said. That includes the deployment of the Indiana Legal Help website and the grant-funded project to put 150 self-service legal help kiosks around the state.

Smith was also a driving force in putting together the annual Indiana Civil Legal Assistance Conference, Dunlap added.

Chuck Dunlap (Photo from LinkedIn)

“Her experience, frankly, I don’t think it’s totally replaceable,” he said.

Smith has also been adept at creating partnerships within the state, working well with the Indiana State Bar Association and the Indiana Supreme Court, Dunlap said.

Indiana Chief Justice Loretta Rush paid tribute to Smith at the ceremony. She noted that Smith’s work with the bar foundation ran parallel to her time on the bench as the state’s chief justice.

Rush described Smith as a “finisher” and a big thinker who starts projects and takes them to the end.

The chief justice noted there are 2.7 million court cases pending in Indiana, with so many people waiting for justice. She said Smith is a strong advocate for people with unmet civil legal needs.

Indiana Chief Justice Loretta Rush

“Who worries about that? She worries about that,” Rush said of Smith.

Smith noted she has worked in the access-to-justice system for the last 25 years, including running a community mediation center in the Chicago area before moving to Indiana and joining the bar foundation.

At the ceremony, Dunlap joked that he was calling Smith’s retirement a sabbatical. He praised her for her kindness, warmth and genuine concern for others.

The announcement of Smith’s retirement comes as the bar foundation announced the release of a comprehensive web resource in support of Indiana middle school educators teaching the new required semester of sixth-grade civics.

The bar foundation is also hosting its We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution State Finals for state middle and high school students this week.

Smith said she will continue to be a big supporter of the foundation in retirement, and she plans to work as a volunteer during its upcoming 75th anniversary celebration.

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