LEADING QUESTIONS: Sarah Evans Barker won't stop

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Leading Questions

Welcome to the latest installment of “Leading Questions: Wisdom from the Corner Office,” in which IBJ sits down with central Indiana’s top bosses and civic leaders to talk shop about the latest developments in their industries and the habits that lead to success.

Sarah Evans Barker, 67, became the first female federal judge in Indiana after being appointed to the bench by President Ronald Reagan in 1984. Her ascent to the position was even more remarkable given that some 20 years earlier, she was floating through her courses at Indiana University “like a cork on the ocean” without any clue what she wanted to do after graduation (see video below).

She earned her law degree from the American University School of Law in Washington, D.C., and worked as a legislative assistant to Sen. Charles H. Percy and Congressman Gilbert Gude. She started her Indianapolis legal career as an assistant United States Attorney, and served as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Indiana before being appointed to the federal bench for the same district.

“I sort of knew the ropes,” Barker said. “There is a rule of thumb for judges that it takes about five years to get your stride. … That’s pretty accurate.

“I was learning about how to manage the work and how to write to all the audiences you have to write to—to the lawyers and the litigants, to the Seventh Circuit [Court of Appeals], to the general field of lawyers and academics, because you don’t want to have a decision that doesn’t  resonate with the body of laws that you are trying to apply.”

In her 27 years on the bench, the Mishawaka native has ruled on a number of high-profile cases. In 1984, she overturned an Indianapolis ordinance banning pornographic materials on the grounds that it violated the First Amendment. In 2003, she mandated an end to overcrowding at the Marion County Jail. For several years during the early 2000s, she and U.S. Magistrate Judge Sue Shields resolved more than 800 cases related to alleged defects in Bridgestone/Firestone tires that were linked to hundreds of deaths and injuries.

Of greatest importance to Barker is her family, as evidenced by the dozens of personal photos and keepsakes that line the desks, bookcases and walls in her office. These include a hand-drawn Mother’s Day card from daughter Susan in 1985 that reads in careful calligraphy, “My mother is a pretty judge.”  Framed nearby is a handwritten note from daughter Katie to then-President Reagan that Barker presented at a White House function—which was returned to Katie with a note from the Gipper. (Barker and her attorney husband, Kenneth Barker, have three grown children and several grandchildren.)

One doesn’t want to waste an audience with the perennially busy Barker, so “Leading Questions” is setting a new precedent with four videos in this edition.

In the videos below, Barker discusses a number of issues related to her time on the bench, including reversals from appeals courts (they sting a bit) and balancing family life with a legal career (it’s very difficult). At bottom, Barker addresses whether she would be a good fit for a Supreme Court appointment (not really), and how she’ll know when it’s time to step down (don't hold your breath).



  • Norman Z Flick
    Is this the Norman Flick who was married to Bonnie? If so please reply, been trying to find you for years.
  • My friend
    I would like to know if Judge Barker is still practicing in Indiana. Being on the Judicial Complaints Committee, and my son and I made into victims by a Superior Court judge, I have never quit seeking help for the damage done to us but I have merely run out of people who should have done something to help me get the compensation I believe my son and I deserve for the damage done to our futures by a judge. I would appreciate finding a way to contact Judge Barker to run the events of being 'trapped' in this court for a decade w/o the benefit of a single hearing, even w/an Order of Protection. If the world is shocked at a man who kept 3 women prisoner for 10 years in Cleveland, how shocked do you think the world will be upon learning that a judge destroyed my son and I by the same means? PTSD is very difficult to recover from. Thank you for any help you can give me. Lois Cantwell
  • Corruption by Sarah Evans Barker
    I know how corrupt Federal Judge Sarah Evans Barker is, the Media hides the truth of Barker's corruption. Barker is very unfit for her position. Norman Flick
    • Injustice by SSA
      On April 24,2003 the U.S. District Court Southern District of Indiana the Honorable Sarah Evans Barker entered a Judgment pursuant to sentence 4 of 42 USC 405(g) of the Social Security Act that i believe requires SSA to grant DIB. It is well established Law that is a final appeallable Judgment Shalala v Schaefer (1993)the Appeal time ran in this case and the Honorable Judge awarded $6,339.50 in EAJA Fees. The plain language of EAJA says the party must be the prevailing party,the Govts position must be substaintially unjustified,the Judgment must be final and include an order of settlement.Case#IP02-565-C-B/S now the Attorneys in this case got $6,339.50 for winning in the Court but to this day Dec.9,2012 i have'nt recieved anything from this Judgment and it has Finiancally and physically destroyed my life at now 60 yrs old. Lack of due process and constitutional violations by the Govt that deprived me of a legal ruling.
    • final judgment by the Honorable Judge
      I have great respect for the Honorable Judge Sarah Evans Barker. on April 24th 2003 there is a judgment that ordered the Commissioner of Social Security Adminstration to grant me DIB case #IP02-565-C-B/S and EAJA fees awarded to me because i prevailed in the Court Action and to have the Govt,(in this case the SSA)completely ignore the Honorable Judge. the govt. relitigated her conclusions of law and i have never seen a penny from this judgment and without her help i probably never will.
      • A Reverend Brother's Response
        First of all, there is no reverend brother who could be any more proud of a sibling than I am of my sister, The Hon. Sarah Evans Barker. The only quibble that I might have about all these interviews is that despite the fact that both pieces of needlepoint shown in the videos were executed by my hands, she never once mentioned how indebted she is to me for helping her become the woman of intelligence and grace and savoir-faire that she is today. But, I know she's grateful. The interviews were just wonderful. Thank you.
      • Wise, humorous, compassionate& joyful
        Sarah Beth Evans Barker is a joy to have as a friend and professionally is wise, fair and compassionate. Her deep faith draws a wide circle to seek understanding of others. Her commitment to her husband Ken, and her children and grandchildren is exemplary. She is accessible whether wearing gym clothes, or the gown of a judge. She brings out the best in everyone who knows her. And all of this is done with great humor.
      • The real Sarah Beth
        My dear, dear friend with whom I laughed, sang, and prayed rode her horse from rural Jackson Rd. into my front yard on W.8th St. in Mishawaka. She hasn't changed! How fortunate we all are to know our dear Sarah will still laugh, sing, and pray with us any day any time.
      • Sarah Evans Barker
        Judge Barker is my ideal role model - as an attorney, a judge, and a wonderful human being. I feel honored to call her a Hoosier. Great interview.
        • Great" Barkerisms"
          Thanks to IBJ for allowing us to see and hear Judge Barker, expressing her sage "Barkerisms" on important topics. She sees the big picture on these issues, distilling them to their essence with refreshing honesty and wisdom.
        • My friend
          The girls may not have noticed, however the friends around did and with great admiraton!
          The system needs Sarah Evans Barker as long as she can go because she is the best!

        • Sarah Evans Barker
          wonderful. I know her ,but learned yet more about her.

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        1. The Walgreens did not get a lot of traffic. It was not located on the corner of the intersection, and not really visible from Emerson. Meanwhile the CVS there is huge and right on the corner. I am guessing a lot of people drove by a million times and never knew the Walgreens was there. Although, with the new Walmart market going in, that area could really see a lot of increase in traffic soon.

        2. You folks don't have a clue. There is a legal way to enter this country and to get aid. This left unchecked could run us to ruin quickly. I also heard that 'supporters' were getting major $$ to take them in? Who's monitoring this and guess who pays the bill? I support charitable organizations... but this is NOT the way to do it!

        3. Apparently at some time before alcohol has been served at the fair. The problem is that beer or wine used to be a common drink for people before soft drinks and was not thought to be that unusual. Since many folks now only drink to see how much they can drink or what kind of condition they can end up in it becomes more problematic. Go to Europe and its no big deal just as if you had sodas of milk to drink everyday. Its using common sense that is lacking now days.

        4. To address the epic failure of attracting race fans to both the Indy 500 and Brickyard 400 would take too much of my time to write. Bottom line Boles is clueless and obviously totally out of touch with the real paying fan base. I see nothing but death spin coming for the Brickyard, just like Indy. Get somebody in a place of power that understands what race fans want.

        5. I am a race fan through & through. It doesn't matter if it's Indy cars or Nascar. I love a great race. I go to several other tracks each year and you can see the entire track. I know Indy has tradition, but fans want to see the entire race. I sit in the Penthouse, am almost 60 years old, and would like to see a better TV screen in turn 1 so you can see the entire race. Then I think Indy needs to install an escalator so us old folks can make it up to the Penthouse and down again if we want more options to purchase food and drinks. Just a race fans opinion. Lights won't make the race any better, but you might be able to see the TV better at night. Turn 1's screen needs replaced with a better and bigger screen.