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. Apologies for the wall of text. I promise I had this nicely formatted in paragraphs in Notepad before pasting here.

        2. I believe that is incorrect Sir, the people's tax-dollars are NOT paying for the companies investment. Without the tax-break the company would be paying an ADDITIONAL $11.1 million in taxes ON TOP of their $22.5 Million investment (Building + IT), for a total of $33.6M or a 50% tax rate. Also, the article does not specify what the total taxes were BEFORE the break. Usually such a corporate tax-break is a 'discount' not a 100% wavier of tax obligations. For sake of example lets say the original taxes added up to $30M over 10 years. $12.5M, New Building $10.0M, IT infrastructure $30.0M, Total Taxes (Example Number) == $52.5M ININ's Cost - $1.8M /10 years, Tax Break (Building) - $0.75M /10 years, Tax Break (IT Infrastructure) - $8.6M /2 years, Tax Breaks (against Hiring Commitment: 430 new jobs /2 years) == 11.5M Possible tax breaks. ININ TOTAL COST: $41M Even if you assume a 100% break, change the '30.0M' to '11.5M' and you can see the Company will be paying a minimum of $22.5, out-of-pocket for their capital-investment - NOT the tax-payers. Also note, much of this money is being spent locally in Indiana and it is creating 430 jobs in your city. I admit I'm a little unclear which tax-breaks are allocated to exactly which expenses. Clearly this is all oversimplified but I think we have both made our points! :) Sorry for the long post.

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