Web Exclusive: ‘Hit the ground running’: Barr joins Indiana Southern District Court as magistrate judge

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Indiana Southern District Magistrate Judge Kellie Barr. (IL file photo)

Having served as a career clerk for U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson for nearly seven years, now-Magistrate Judge Kellie Barr knew what she was signing up for when she applied for an open position at the bustling court.

“I really knew what this job was and what the court needed from someone in this role, and I thought I could offer it,” Barr said. “I thought I could really effectively do the job because we’re really busy.”

Barr, a former federal law clerk and in-house attorney at Indiana University Health, was selected earlier this year as the newest magistrate judge of the Indiana Southern District Court. She assumed her duties on Nov. 1 after being sworn in Oct. 31 during a private ceremony.

Barr succeeds now-retired Magistrate Judge Debra McVicker Lynch, who officially transitioned on Oct. 31.

Upon graduating from Indiana University Maurer School of Law in 2006, Barr clerked for then-Chief Judge John Baker of the Court of Appeals of Indiana and worked for two years as an associate in the Litigation & Appellate Services Group at Bose McKinney & Evans LLP in Indianapolis.

She then moved to the Indiana Southern District Court in 2010 where she remained in Magnus-Stinson’s chambers until 2017. Barr then worked in the legal department at IU Health, where she rose to assistant general counsel for IU Health and lead attorney for IU Health Physicians.

Erin Lewis, senior vice president and general counsel for IU Health, was thrilled to hear her colleague was applying for the magistrate judge vacancy.

“I was so excited for her,” Lewis said. “I knew she was going to get it.”

Saying that she trusts Barr’s legal skills “implicitly,”  Lewis noted that even more importantly Barr will make litigants in her court feel welcomed, seen and heard on their worst days.

“Litigants before her will, whether they feel like they got what they wanted or not, feel that they had a fair shake,” Lewis said.

Baker described Barr as having a “great legal mind” and an ability to extend compassion.

“One of the things I expect she will replicate is that sense of team with the team of people who she works,” Baker said. “She is a wonderful person.”

Describing Barr as a “quick study,” former Bose McKinney & Evans colleague Alan Townsend said Barr is perfect for the magistrate judge position.

“You see such a wide variety of disputes and you have to be knowledgeable on everything that comes across your desk. You have to know a lot about a lot,” he said. “She’s got more than enough capacity to do that.”

In a Q&A with Indiana Lawyer, Barr said her vast array of legal experience coupled with her efficiency and willingness to hit the ground running will help her pitch in at one of the busiest federal courts in the country.

Indiana Lawyer: You just joined the bench on Nov. 1. How was your first week on the job?

Barr: It’s been great. I will say that my colleagues have been amazing; welcoming me and making sure I’m comfortable in hitting the ground running. My staff has been great. They’ve been wonderful in getting me going. Other than that, it’s just been prepping each night and doing my best each day.

Has it been what you expected?

Yes. We are very busy. I think the last statistics I saw were by weighted caseload, we were first in the whole 7th Circuit and seventh in the nation. So I knew that the court needed someone who could really hit the ground running.

You obviously know that this is an extremely busy court. So how are you planning to join in the effort to administer justice timely and effectively?

I believe in early case management and involvement by a magistrate judge. I’m going to try to get involved in cases early to be able to really understand it and help the parties work to the hopeful resolutions. Now, obviously, I’ve inherited a docket, right? It’s not like I have 400 new cases, I have approximately 400 cases all at various stages of litigation. So right now I’m just trying to get a sense of what the docket is and where I can be most effective right out of the gate.

In just a few words, how would you describe yourself to someone you’ve never met?

Efficient, personable, and optimistic. I think based on the career path I have had I’ve really seen all of the different types of cases that come through this court or versions of those types of cases. I do feel that I am a generalist, which I think is not very common any more.

Do you think that will benefit you?

Yes, hands down. Because we see everything from antitrust litigation and personal injury cases, to diversity jurisdiction, criminal cases, prison civil rights cases to complex contracts or employment law litigation. I’m not claiming to be an expert in any of those areas, but I have experience in all of them that I think will serve me well.

You received a BA in psychology and speech and hearing sciences, with a minor in Spanish. What prompted you to go to law school after that?

I had a few college professors say to me, “Have you ever thought about law school?” and my answer was no. I have now realized in my life, when (you hear a few) people who you respect and admire say the same thing, they have probably see something in your that you may not have seen in yourself. I thought, “Well I can look into law school.” I took the LSAT and followed that path. I now as a lawyer see completely why they said that. I love to read, research and write. I really enjoy people and the law in general.

After graduating law school, you clerked for Judge John Baker and later, Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson. What are the significant takeaways you gleaned from those clerkships?

My big takeaway from both of those clerkships is that you really need to look at cases almost from the 10,000-foot level. Sometimes lawyers can get bogged down in a lot of the details of a case and lose sight of the big picture of what various motivations are or what is in the best interest of their clients in a certain situation or, what is the possible recovery for their clients.

What are you most looking forward to during your time as a magistrate judge? 

I’m looking forward to the variety of cases; the breadth of different types of cases we have. That’s exciting to me. I’m looking forward to getting to know the lawyers who practice over here frequently. I’m really looking forward to being the judge for my law clerks. I know how special that relationship is and I look forward to mentoring my current and future law clerks as they find their way into the profession.

When you have free time, what’s your favorite thing to do?

I’m a huge book reader, I’m also a Peloton member and I spend time with my family.

Tell me about your participation in the Indiana Southern District’s Recruited Counsel Program and what that entails.

Local Rule 87 has a mechanism for attorneys to serve as recruited counsel for typically prisoner civil rights cases. We have way more cases that need counsel than we have available counsel. I was looking for an opportunity to get more involved again with the federal court and was appointed pro bono in a prisoner civil rights case and represented a client in a settlement conference that was successful in resolving the case.

I would love to see more in-house attorneys take advantage of that program in the future. I think it’s a win-win both for the court, that we get wonderful attorneys for clients who have a genuine need and in house attorney that get to appear in court.

You’re an active member of the IndyBar Women and The Law Division’s Beyond the Book Club. Do you have any plans to start a book club here at the court?

Technically, I’m part of another book club too. So adding another book club might be a bit of a commitment. But my understanding is that there are some members of the court already who may informally have book clubs. Maybe I will be fortunate enough to get an invite.

Do you have any favorite books you’ve read this year?

I just finished “All good people here” by Ashley Flowers, “Cloud Cuckoo Land” by Anthony Doerr, and the third one is “Carrie Soto is back” by Taylor Jenkins Reid.

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