Friday, November 7, 2008

My Mentor, Judge Paul H. Buchanan, Jr.

Today's Indianapolis Star contains a very sad note. Paul Buchanan, Jr., a long-time Indianapolis lawyer and Court of Appeals judge passed away at the age of 90.

After leaving the Attorney General's Office, I clerked for Judge Buchanan at the Indiana Court of Appeals. In fact, I was the last clerk the judge hired before his retirement in 1993.

No one had more of an influence on me and my legal career than Judge Buchanan. He was a man who stood for honesty, integrity and against the corrupt influence of politics in dispensing legal justice. While he was the last judge sitting on the court to have been elected in a state-wide election, he was a major force behind Indiana's adoption of the Missouri Plan system of selecting state Court of Appeals and Supreme Court judges, a blended system that involves screening of candidates by a judicial committee, gubernatorial appointment and subsequent retention votes, examples of which we saw on Tuesday's ballot. Judge Buchanan was so proud of that accomplishment that I never voiced my opinion to him that the system in practice has not worked well to take politics out of the just moves those politics behind closed doors.

Judge Buchanan had a profound influence on everyone around him, but especially those who clerked for him. His integrity and the grace with which he conducted himself was something that influenced all of us. He was proud to be an attorney and considered it to be a noble profession, a view that seemed a bit quaint in light of the modern realities of attorneys who operate seemingly free of any ethical compass.

What I most admired about Judge Buchanan was his insistence that judges be fair and impartial in the administration of justice and that everyone be afforded a fair shot before the Court of Appeals. Although he was a strong conservative, he would not hesitate to rule the other way if the law so dictated. He saw his role as a judge as that of an unbiased umpire, making calls on the the law and facts as presented to the court.

Clerks for the Judge Buchanan would select which case they would work on next. It was a fairly random process. We really only knew the name of the case and what the issue was. Only after reviewing the briefs did we have a sense of what the case was all about.

At the end of Judge Buchanan's career on the court, I picked the last case he would be deciding in his storied career. It was a case involving the issue of whether a criminal defendant's right to a speedy trial was violated. The case involved a brutal attempted murder of the defendant's grandmother during a robbery attempt. She was beaten and left for dead next to a reservoir. I reviewed the timeline and it was clear the court had violated the speedy trial rule. That meant we had no choice. We had to overturn the conviction.

I told the Judge of all I had learned from looking at the briefs and the transcript. I suggested to the Judge that he had too good of a judicial career to make this case, a case that might get publicity as an example of a "liberal" judge allowing bad guys to walk free on a technicality, to be his last case. I told him that I could put the case back and leave the speedy trial rule case for his successor. Judge Buchanan would not hear of it. He said the if the law demanded that the conviction be reversed, that is what he would do. So we wrote the opinion reversing the defendant's conviction for attempted murder. It was his last decision.

Honesty and integrity. When I hear those words, I think of Judge Paul H. Buchanan, Jr. Rest in Peace, Judge. We will miss you.


Diana Vice said...

Poignant! Thanks for sharing.


Thank you for sharing your memories, Paul.

I love this blog!

Diana Vice said...

This is one of my favorite blogs too, Melyssa. I love Paul's writing style and I especially love his attitude and honesty.

Paul K. Ogden said...

Diana and Melyssa,

The check is in the mail. Thanks.

varangianguard said...

That last comment could be amusing on so many levels.

They just don't seem to make them like Judge Buchanan anymore.

Anonymous said...

This blog is very pleasant and it brings back all of the good memories. said...

Thanks Paul, for your wonderful tribute to my father. He stayed true to his sense of integrity throughout his life, in everything that he did.

Thanks too for recounting your stories as his clerk. I enjoyed reading them.

Bruce Buchanan

Donn Wray said...

I clerked for the Judge 1980-82. I agree with every single word written. The Judge was proud of his graduates from what he called "Buchanan's Finishing School." We now owe him the obligation to pay it forward.