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Saturday, January 03, 2009

Ind. Courts - "She's the best trial judge I've ever practiced in front of"

That is a quote from from Jon Murray's story today in the Indianapolis Star, headed "Marion County Judge Patricia Gifford retires after 30 years." Some quotes:

Patricia Gifford spent three decades in a swamp of murders, robberies, rapes and swindles, a toxic turf few judges in Marion Superior Court survive half as long. * * *

"You've got to remember, when she assumed the bench, there were not many women lawyers, much less judges," said Theodore Boehm, an Indiana Supreme Court justice and Gifford's grade-school classmate on Indianapolis' Northside. "She really was a pioneer and a leader."

Opportunities were just opening up for women, a point underlined in one of her earliest cases, a sex crime, after she became a judge in 1979.

"The defendant was strenuously objecting because the judge was a woman, the prosecutor was a woman and the victim was a woman," Gifford said. She found the situation anything but objectionable. "I thought, 'Isn't that amazing?' "

Before she took over Criminal Courtroom 4, Gifford, 70, a Republican, started out as a teacher -- only because she didn't want to become a homemaker or a nurse, among the few options available for women in the early 1960s. A few years later, she earned a law degree and worked for the Indiana attorney general, then as a part-time prosecutor.

Gifford quickly developed a sharp-edged tenor from the bench. It's an approach that humbles unprepared lawyers of all stripes, while inspiring their respect. * * *

New judges long have leaned on Gifford as a mentor, including Robert Altice, whose courtroom is next door; Jane Magnus-Stinson, now a federal magistrate; and Robyn Moberly, now a civil judge.

Gifford's best advice was simple, Moberly said -- "to remember that I'm in control, and my demeanor really sets the tone of the courtroom."

Gifford also was a teacher, of sorts, to young defense attorneys and prosecutors.

"She's the best trial judge I've ever practiced in front of," said Bob Hill, who handled death-penalty cases before Gifford and now is chief public defender. "She might not always agree about what you're advocating, but she will always let you present your case. She's always very fair and even-handed."

Scott Newman, the city's public safety director and the former Marion County prosecutor, was more blunt.

"She wasn't someone you would go have a beer with. But she was what a judge should be, in the sense that she made you be the best lawyer you could be."

Posted by Marcia Oddi on January 3, 2009 07:59 AM
Posted to Indiana Courts