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Interrogatories: Candid Q&A with the Hon. Jane Magnus-Stinson

By Tyler D. Helmond, Voyles Zahn & Paul PA

She is a graduate of Butler University and the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law. She was an associate at Lewis Wagner LLP, counsel to Gov. Evan Bayh, and a Marion Superior Court judge prior to her appointment to the federal bench. She is Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson, and she has been served with interrogatories.

Q. What is your philosophy on clerkships? What do you look for when you are hiring a clerk, and what do you hope to give and get in the judge-clerk relationship?

A. My philosophy is to hire smart, quick, experienced, diverse people whose company I enjoy. I have been fortunate to find a number of clerks with experience as practicing lawyers, and their insights are invaluable. I have not been on the lawyer side of the bench for over 20 years. My hope is to give support, guidance and friendship and to get support, guidance and friendship.

Q. You spent 12 years on the Marion Superior Court bench. What was the biggest challenge adapting to the federal bench, first as a magistrate and now as a district court judge?

A. After 12 years in major felony court, I felt that I had gained a depth of knowledge after handling thousands of major felony cases. Here the subject matter is so diverse, gaining that sense of depth is impossible. But the diversity of cases is both intellectually challenging and stimulating.

Q. Who has had the most important influence on your legal writing?

A. Justice Ted Boehm is an important influence. Anyone who can work the latin equivalent of “so what” (de minimis no curat lex) into an Indiana Supreme Court opinion deserves emulation. D & M Healthcare v. Kernan, 800 N.E. 2d 898, 900(2003). Seriously, Justice Boehm’s opinions were cogently written and in language that all readers could understand. I strive to write in such clear, plain language.

Q. What are the most common mistakes you see advocates making today?

A. First, let me say that I am delighted to be a judge in the Southern District of Indiana where I think the caliber and civility of advocates ranks quite high.

To answer your question:

  1. Improperly pleading federal diversity jurisdiction.
  2. Filing motions for summary judgment when it is evident there are fact issues.

 

Q. Before your nomination to the federal bench, you were interviewed by officials from the Department of Justice and the Office of White House Counsel. What was that process like?

A. The process was, as it should have been, quite rigorous. The people with whom I met were deciding whether the President of the United States should put his name behind my nomination to a constitutional appointment. They asked challenging questions, and called many people here in Indianapolis to check me out. Once President Obama decided I would be nominated, they became staunch allies and defenders. One remains a dear friend.

Q. How did you choose to attend Butler University after graduating from a high school in the Chicago area? What advice would you give to a parent facing the college selection process today?

A. I had one B in high school and my parents were looking for a way to broker my grades into a scholarship. My guidance counselor recommended Butler, which had a generous merit scholarship program. Thanks to Butler I received a full tuition scholarship and a fantastic liberal arts education.

My advice to parents: Follow the money. Seriously, my advice is work with your child’s high school college counselor to develop a short list based on your child’s interests and then hit the highway. The proliferation of information and rankings on the Internet is overwhelming and college visits can provide great insight into the feel of a campus and its students. Then, choose Butler or Indiana University (my two alma maters).

Q. Where do you get your news?

A. The Indianapolis Star, The Indiana Lawyer, The Indianapolis Business Journal, NBC, MSNBC, The Washington Post’s Wonkblog, my husband.

Q. What’s on your iPod?

A. It’s wholly eclectic: start with ABBA and end with Zac Brown Band. A random shuffle came up with: Michael Jackson, Train, Eric Clapton, David Gray, Mumford & Sons, the Police, Karla Bonoff, Bruno Mars and Oasis. My favorite ways to keep current are buying the annual Grammy Nominees CD, and taking the advice of my good friend Commissioner Jeff Marchal who knows good music. Thanks to him I have “Sequestered in Memphis” by The Hold Steady.

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