Web Exclusive: Meet the Judges: Knox Circuit Judge Monica Gilmore

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Going to law school was initially going to be a stepping stone to what Knox Circuit Judge Monica Gilmore had planned to do: join the FBI.

Gilmore had enrolled at the University of Arkansas School of Law with a plan to work in forensics, where she said there was a demand for women and for people with higher levels of education.

Knox Circuit Judge Monica Gilmore

“I would have fit in that demand area,” Gilmore said. “But at the end of the day, I just, I guess, chickened out. I decided I couldn’t do it, so I didn’t go for it.”

Something else happened while Gilmore was in law school: Her grandmother was receiving dialysis treatments three times a week for a kidney disease.

“I knew that if I moved away or if I stayed in Little Rock — because that’s where I had job offers, other than back here — that I would not be able to be a part of her life,” Gilmore said of her grandmother. “So I decided that I wanted to come back so that I could be closer to my family.”

So, after graduating from law school in 2006, Gilmore returned to Indiana and worked as a court-appointed attorney until 2015, when she was appointed by the Knox County prosecutor to run the Child Support Enforcement Office. In 2016, she began practicing family law at her Vincennes firm, Gilmore Law Office, while continuing to work as a deputy prosecutor.

Then in 2022, Gilmore unseated incumbent Knox Circuit Judge Sherry Gregg Gilmore, winning 58.8% of the vote to Gregg Gilmore’s 41.2%. She has served on the Knox Circuit Court in the year since.

Gilmore is the latest Indiana trial judge to be featured in Indiana Lawyer’s Spotlight series profiling jurists in more rural counties. Here is that she had to say about life on and off the bench.

What made you choose a career in law?
They have this program called the “Knox County CEO” that stands for Creative Entrepreneurial Opportunities, and they sent high school students to come up here and talk to me every once in a while, and what I always told them is, “Figure out what you want your life to look like and then decide your career.” Because I knew that I did not want to work holidays, I did not want to work weekends, meaning I didn’t want a job where I had a “shift.” I had friends whose parents were nurses, doctors, anesthesiologists, radiology techs, and they would have to work holidays, and so my friends would have these rotating family things. I did not want that for myself; I wanted, by and large, a job with banker’s hours. So I kind of started with the presumption that that’s what I wanted to do.

I have a really good mechanical mind; I can take things apart and put them back together and figure out how something works just based on looking at another similar thing. My mom really wanted me to be an engineer. I mean, she really, really thought that I was going to be an engineer.

My mother (Susan Carpenter) worked at Vocational Rehabilitation. She was there for about 12 years until she retired in 2009. She was a caseworker at the time she and my former partner (Matt Parmenter) worked together and she retired as the supervisor. My former partner had a worker’s compensation case and the injured plaintiff received resources from VR. When Matt got the case resolved, he was attempting to reimburse the state of Indiana through his client’s resolution, and he and mom worked together over a few months of back-and-forth to accomplish that. In 1998, when I wanted to start the path to law school, my mom reached out to Matt to see if I could intern with him. I did the internship in 1999 over a semester and summer, and that is what made me realize that I definitely wanted to go to law school.

What is something that has surprised you about being a judge?
It surprised me, as a taxpayer, the way that things are run. When it was just Gilmore Law Office, it was me, and I had one full-time legal secretary and then I had a part-time legal secretary. The full-time legal secretary, we ran things together. She really has been a godsend. She came with me; she’s now my chief court reporter. We just ran a very tight ship, I guess is the only way to describe it; we have so many systems and so many checks and balances and how we would do things, and so kind of stepping into this role to find out not everybody is that way. I guess a lot of people are kind of loosey-goosey with things, and I’m not. I’m like, “If there is a statute that applies, we’re going to follow the steps; that’s there for a reason.” So that has surprised me. Even if you call (someone) for guidance, they’ll say, “Well, here’s what you’re supposed to do, and here’s what we recommend is best practice. But you’re the judge, you can do what you want.” And it’s like, well, that’s not really what I wanted to hear. So it’s been very different.

It’s been great. I mean, as a practicing attorney, I was always very, very deferential to the bench because I have a lot of respect for it. It’s a branch of our government. I feel like it’s a very important part of being an American. Not everybody sees it that way — definitely not every attorney sees it that way. So that’s been surprising.

What is something you have learned about yourself since becoming a judge?
I’ve got a very low tolerance for, just call it “shenanigans.” I have a very low tolerance for that — I mean, I feel like I accommodate quite a bit. I worked in child support … and you do hear a lot of excuses, but you also hear a lot of legitimate, “I need help, I can’t afford this child support obligation.” Those are the kinds of people that you want to help, the ones that should be receiving the resources or the accommodations (because) you’ve been laid off because of a work injury for six months. Yes, by all means, we can help you, we’ll pause that for six months until you get back on your feet. But at the end of the day, your kids need to be supported, and that doesn’t go on forever. So I got used to that, and stepping into this role, I already knew I had a low tolerance for that.

But I have surprised myself in that, I feel like I’m able to reach people so that they see that I’m not just drawing a hard line in the sand; I will help you if you show me that you are in need and have done your best. I will help you and I will help explain things, and I do want you to understand. So maybe I’ve learned about myself (that) I’m a little bit better at teaching than I thought I was. I say that because I’ve had a few people who thanked me for explaining things to them. A lot of times as lawyers, we slip into legalese, even with our clients. Nobody wants to feel stupid, and so a lot of times people will just kind of nod and agree with you. They have no idea what you’re saying as a lawyer, but they just kind of agree with you because they don’t want to look stupid. And so I have been pretty good about recognizing when there’s just a blank stare across the room that the person is not understanding and making sure that they understand what is really going on and what the consequences truly are of you making these choices.

Do you have a favorite memory since becoming a judge?
I actually had one today that I feel like is going to stick with me. There’s been some turnover, so let’s just say that this guy had fallen through the cracks. I like to joke that if it happened before July of this year, all bets are off and you better check my work, because I did not know what I was doing and we were just holding on for dear life. But after July, I feel like I’ve gotten it a lot more.

So he had sent me some letters early on, and I would have to ask, “What do you think I should do?” to either people at the state level or to my co-judges here in Knox County, and I would just do basically whatever they said; you can kind of see on the docket the timeline of how I had changed my responses. Recently he sent me another request and I was like, “We need to get this guy in.” I can’t really figure out what he’s trying to tell me because a lot of times, people try and talk legalese or they try and sound a certain way and all they end up doing is just jumbling together a bunch of phrases and it makes no sense. Just get him in here, we’ll just give it a hearing.

Well, it turned out that this guy had served the maximum time that he could serve in prison and he had never been to trial. To their credit, the state’s deputy prosecutor who had worked on this case was long gone, and so no one that looked at it until we started preparing. But I could just tell that this guy, he was really challenging. But when he realized that I was like, “We’re not going to let this happen. You’re not just going to sit in the jail and grow old and moldy on this charge,” you could kind of tell that he was very grateful. I’ve just been thinking about that all afternoon; that just happened this morning. I just feel like he was very grateful that we had someone that was listening to him, and I feel satisfied with myself.

I say “we” — my staff, they came with me, not just the chief reporter, but my other reporter also came with me, and then my third reporter actually is a friend who worked in private practice. We all have a very close relationship and we have worked very, very hard to clear up a backlog that has been around for way too long. It scares me to think about how many more people there might be like the guy we had this morning. But we are working very, very hard to clear the backlog and make sure that nobody else falls through the cracks like that.

When you’re not on the bench, what are some of your hobbies?
Home improvement. We have a house that is great big old farmhouse that looks very pretty on the outside but needs a lot of work on the inside. I like to do that stuff because I take things apart, put it back together. That’s about my only hobby. We have two little kids, so I just take them wherever they need to go.•

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