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Interrogatories: Candid Q&A with Judge Elaine Brown

By Tyler D. Helmond, Voyles Zahn & Paul

Hon. Elaine B. Brown,
Indiana Court of Appeals

She is a graduate of Indiana University and the Indiana University Maurer School of Law. She practiced at Thom & DeMotte before taking the trial bench in Dubois County. She was appointed to the Indiana Court of Appeals in 2008. She is Judge Elaine Brown, and she has been served with interrogatories.

Q: You began your career as an art teacher at a K-12 school. Which group is more challenging to work with: lawyers or K-12 students?

A: I had not thought of potential parallels between the two before, but there may be some. I found the elementary students sweet, innocent, and honest in their artistic endeavors. I find the law students in my Trial Advocacy class at IU Maurer School of Law bright, mostly innocent, and refreshingly honest about their shortcomings. The same is true of the young lawyers I’ve met through volunteering with the NITA Trial Advocacy course. In junior high art classes I encountered some feisty eighth grade boys; certainly the same could be said of many lawyers in practice a number of years, although not necessarily with a negative implication. The more troubling discipline issues I experienced involved a few high school girls who were mean, manipulative, and deceptive. Seems there are a couple of lawyers out there for whom this same shoe fits. But for the most part, I really liked my students and I really like lawyers.

Q: Speaking of art, what are your feelings on including (relevant) diagrams and pictures in appellate briefs?

A: I think that any demonstrative figure that helps to make a point clearer or more vivid should be used. I’ve seen Justice Breyer use a diagram in one of his concurring opinions, Judge Posner uses them in his opinions, and they have been used to illustrate points in a few of our appellate opinions. As long as they are accurate depictions, I find them helpful.

Q: You’re a Prius driver. In an episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” Larry David, a Prius driver, waves to another Prius driver and becomes upset when the other driver refuses to wave back. Do you wave to other Prius drivers?

A: Only if I know the driver. While I’m all for sustainability and promoting green initiatives, and I am in fact on my second Prius, as ubiquitous as it has become, if I did wave to all Prius drivers it would be a near-constant motion.

Q: If you had to have lunch with one member of the United States Supreme Court, who would it be and why?

A: Chief Justice John Roberts, because of his Indiana ties, his considerate manner, and his conservative judicial philosophy. Actually, my first preference would be to dine with former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. I had the privilege of meeting her at an Appellate Judges Education Institute conference in Scottsdale several years ago and found her approachable, charming, and kind. I appreciate the ground she broke for other women on the Supreme Court and the work she did as an Arizona appellate jurist as well as her online education project, “iCivics,” which was designed to inspire students to actively participate in U.S. democracy.

Q: You spent four years as the junior member of the Indiana Court of Appeals. Were you anxious to pass that title to Judge Pyle?

A: Yes and no. While I prefer to blend in with the rest of the Court and have the “newbie” spotlight on someone else, I appreciated the youthful connotation of being the most recent appointee.

Q: What professor at the IU Maurer School of Law had the biggest impact on you?

A: I really liked Bill Oliver for tax classes and Alex Tanford for Evidence. Both were clearly experts in their fields, and Tanford, in particular, made the subject matter easy to grasp, although it seems one can never be schooled enough in the rules of evidence. I also appreciated Ron Waicukauski’s friendliness and the relaxed atmosphere of his class. He was brilliant but decidedly not arrogant.

Q: You have spent most of your career in southern Indiana. Since your appointment to the Indiana Court of Appeals, what has been your favorite thing about Indianapolis?

A: I have to mention first my position and the people I work with. I have great friendships with some of the judges, and my staff of clerks are incredibly smart lawyers who are also genuinely good people. My administrative assistant is the sweetest, brightest woman I could imagine for the job. Aside from that, I really like downtown Indy. It’s clean, attractive, vibrant, and fun with a multitude of good restaurants and entertainment venues. I also enjoy the Canal area, the Art Museum, and, of course, the Colts.

Q: You decide cases on a broad range of topics. What have been some of the most interesting subjects?

A: Cases that have arisen as a result of changing technologies involving the First Amendment, the media, jurisdictional questions, and discovery issues. I’m also intrigued by cases involving the propriety of summary judgments and the somewhat subjective determination of whether there exist questions of material fact or purely questions of law or mixed questions of law and fact. Confrontation clause issues are also engaging to me.

Q: What is on your iPod?

A: An eclectic mix: Norah Jones, Taylor Swift, Rod Stewart, Lady Gaga, LeeAnn Rimes, Kenny G, Journey, Eric Clapton, Lady Antebellum, Faith Hill, Christina Aguilera, Kenny Chesney, Toby Keith, Jack Jones, Michael Buble, and Tony Bennett, to name a few.

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