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Friday, April 19, 2019
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  • MARTINSVILLE — As the Indiana General Assembly begins to put a wrap on the 2019 session and prepare to leave Indianapolis, I am somewhat sorry to see them leave town. I fell in love with the Indiana General Assembly in the fourth grade when I paged for Rep. John Thomas of Brazil. Rep. Thomas is my model of what a legislator should be. He was thoughtful, a smart lawyer, and a great example for the next generation. If my path had included legislative service, l would have tried to be a conscientious legislator like he was. Legislative watching is a bit of a passion for me, the same as bird-watching or rock-collecting is for normal people. Spending free time watching the committee work via webcast and, of course, the full chamber sessions for both the House of Representatives and the Senate is better than watching the news on television.  
  • MARTINSVILLE – “Round and round it goes, where it stops, nobody knows” is a line from the “Major Bowes Original Amateur Hour.”  Kris Kristofferson sings a mighty fine song about not knowing where she stops. Sometimes not knowing where it stops is OK. But for law and policy, not so much! Our Spidey Sense should be tingling as the Indiana General Assembly works on its second-half pass. Other than knowing sine die will happen, who knows what we will have when the lawmakers stop? We do not know what the final version of a bill will be. Which of the shiny object bills will go to the governor? What will the consequences be if those bills are signed into law? “Shiny object” is a label for a bill that seems to accomplish something that sounds good to the public but either does nothing, costs more than it’s worth, or is detrimental in some way no one considered. For example, Senate Bill 36 is a shiny object bill that passed with a vote of 40 yeas and 9 nays to create an Indiana felony registry.  
  • MARTINSVILLE – As a crossroads of the nation, Indiana has been surprisingly oblivious, even impervious, to political and social changes. That resistance includes writing ethical standards for office holders, state and local. Dr. Maury Kramer once explained his observations about Hoosier resistance to change with a comparison between settlers and pioneers. Now, several years down the road, his observations applied to the public ethics in Indiana are spot on. Growing up with parents who participated in community activities, being a precinct committeemen and going to political rallies at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, l did not know about political corruption as a kid. It was not until I started practicing law in southern Indiana when I was told how $5 and a pint could vote.  Even then, ever an optimist about honesty and inclusion, I worked for the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970’s. I tried cases in the 1980’s that involved local officials profiting from bribery.  On the Court of Appeals, I saw cases from around the entire state that involved allegations of bribery and other official misconduct. 
  • MARTINSVILLE – With all the various sexual harassment stories popping up in the news, one is reminded of the old walnut shell game. Wondering which shell hides a kernel of corn is fun for a child, but for adults hunting for kernels of truth in the name of fairness, the political shell game is troubling. What factors hide the truth when public officials are charged with sexual harassment or other objectionable conduct? Universally, there are unwritten codes of conduct to not be a tattletale. Additionally, when an elected official holds perceived power over staff or other office holders, then support or silence may be seen as a critical political survival tactic. If the conduct and the threat of public knowledge are serious enough, an accused officeholder may make a payment or a settlement that includes a provision that the settlement or payment cannot be disclosed. This kind of agreement is known as a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) and has historically withheld the kernel of truth from public scrutiny. Such agreements or settlement are rumored to be fairly common. Who knows whether Indiana has legislators who have paid for such agreements? There are no requirements for public disclosure about sexual harassment claim payments and Indiana officeholders.
  • MARTINSVILLE – There are days when I think how far we have come in making justice look like our community and then are the days when I wonder what I was I thinking. I am not sure we will ever see political selection, merit, and diversity come together in a way that reflects all members of our communities. The appointment of Judge Elizabeth F. Tavitas to the Court of Appeals offers a point of hope and optimism for increased inclusion of women on the Indiana bench as one facet of leadership in the legal community.  Her appointment bodes well even though I do not know Judge Tavitas well. However, other judges whom I do know well and whose opinions I respect, know her and consider her to be an excellent judge. On Oct. 1, I had the pleasure and honor of attending her formal swearing-in and robing ceremony. So, it was a good day to celebrate and recognize Judge Tavitas’ accomplishments. I found a specific pleasure in attending Judge Tavitas’s ceremony because 30 years ago this month, Gov. Robert Orr announced that he was appointing me to the Indiana Court of Appeals. 
  • MARTINSVILLE – Recent developments out of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) contained good news on several issues. Secretary Perdue announced more details of how the USDA plans to assist farmers in response to trade damage from unjustified retaliation by foreign nations. In his comments, Secretary Perdue summarized the reasons why the President should be given some negotiating space. “President Trump has been standing up to China and other nations, sending the clear message that the United States will no longer tolerate their unfair trade practices, which include non-tariff trade barriers and the theft of intellectual property.” Despite the naysayers in the Washington, D.C. area, the outcomes might benefit all sectors of the US economy, both consumers and producers. Our trade principles should be balanced, free and fair. For years, from Argentina’s default to World Trade Organization decisions, I had questions about United States and our bland acceptance of grossly unfair trade practices from other countries. China has been outrageously open in stealing our intellectual property, but certainly not alone in those activities.
  • MARTINSVILLE – Hyper headlines about trade, tariffs, and treaties are really nothing new, and neither are the terrified commentaries about what is going to happen to the U.S. economy. The history of trade debate is part of our country’s crazy quilt of political shifts and turns in policy. Just a quick look at history can calm us and provide a better context for the current trade debate.  Today’s low U.S. tariff levels are the product of a (mostly) bipartisan consensus in favor of progressively freer trade that dates back to the post-World War II era. But that consensus was emphatically not the case for the first 150 years or so of the nation’s history: Tariff policy was the subject of fierce disagreement between Republicans (and earlier, Whigs) who favored high rates to protect American industries from foreign competition, and Democrats who by and large argued that any tariffs higher than necessary to fund the federal government unfairly taxed the many to benefit the few. To be clear, we have learned lessons from the Smoot-Hawley tariffs. I do not suggest we should repeat that experience.  
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  • Pistole says DOJ policy saved Trump from indictment
    “There’s a lot of detail in there. It begs the question about if he wasn’t president, would he be indicted? That was much more powerful, and that’s why we saw some comments from the president’s team that did not accurately capture (Mueller’s) team’s findings.” - Anderson University President John S. Pistole, who served as deputy director of the FBI from October 2004 to May 2010, reacting to the Mueller report to the Anderson Herald-Bulletin. He was commenting on Department of Justice policy that a sitting president cannot be indicted, which was the rationale Special Counsel Robert Mueller used in not indicting President Trump on obstruction of justice charges. Pistole said the DOJ is not required to hold to its policy. “Again a policy is not a law. It’s not a statute. Policies are overruled,” he said.
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  • Sen. Birch Bayh memorial service set for May 1 at Statehouse
    A memorial service honoring the career of Indiana’s former United States Senator and House Speaker Birch Bayh (1928-2019) will be held Wednesday, May 1, 2019, at noon EDT in the south atrium of the Indiana Statehouse.  Among those remembering Sen. Bayh’s accomplishments will be Gov. Eric Holcomb, House Speaker Brian Bosma, Purdue President Mitch Daniels, former Congressmen Lee Hamilton and Baron Hill, and Federal District Court Chief Judge Jane E. Magnus-Stinson.

    Indiana’s former Secretary of State, Governor and United States Senator Evan Bayh and Indianapolis attorney Christopher Bayh will eulogize their father.  Former First Lady Susan Bayh will attend, as will their sons Beau (2LT, USMC) and Nick (2LT, USA).  Sen. Bayh’s widow, Katherine “Kitty” Bayh (née Halpin), will read a poem written by the Senator.

    The event is open to the public and no RSVPs are necessary.  Attendees should enter the Statehouse from either the upper east (Capitol Street) or lower west (Senate Avenue) entrances.  While the Indiana General Assembly is not scheduled to be in session, attendees should adjust for parking challenges in the vicinity of the Statehouse. 
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