NOTIONS: Pugilism, Parkinson’s, politics, DNA: a powerful combination set to win

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If you knew only that Scott Newman is a former prosecutor, you might think his new workouts apt. The man known for courtroom sparring now feints, weaves, jabs and thrusts with a former Golden Gloves boxing champion.

But that’s not all we know about the 44-year-old Republican twice elected Marion County prosecutor. For in 2002, Newman also became Indianapolis’ most public Parkinson’s patient.

Today, Newman says boxing provides the perfect exercise for the neurologically challenged.

“Parkinson’s is a movement disease,” said Newman. “And when you engage in this sport, if you don’t move, you get socked in the jaw.”

Ever the comedian, Newman figures his pugilistic therapy will revolutionize Parkinson’s treatment everywhere.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see Billy Graham and Janet Reno putting the gloves on,” he said.

Newman said his workouts, medications and a career change are working.

“My health is better than it was two years ago,” Newman said. “I take less medicine and have fewer symptoms.”

While he admits his physicians have been “mostly amused” by his new hobby, they’re encouraged when Newman the workaholic works at anything besides work.

But it is work-new work-that occupies Newman’s mind these days. As with his workouts, he knows if he doesn’t move-and quickly-he’s going to get socked in the fiscal jaw.

After fewer than two years of private law practice, Newman has hung up his lawyering gloves to be president and CEO of Strand Analytical Laboratories-a private DNA-testing laboratory that last week hosted its grand opening near Indianapolis International Airport. Newman is launching the venture with Mohammad A. Tahir, former technical manager of the Marion County Forensic Services Agency’s DNA section.

Strand Labs sprang not from anyone’s desire to imitate the sexy sleuths on “CSI” or the science-laced procedurals of Patricia Cornwell (which Newman hasn’t read).

Instead, Tahir was a client of Newman’s, and the more the lawyer learned about his client’s expertise-and the backlog of DNA work slowing court cases across America-the more silver lining he saw.

“I was looking for a business opportunity that I knew and cared about, that had a lot of demand, and where I could do well by doing good,” said Newman. “DNA is like the finger of God pointing out who’s innocent and who’s guilty. I found that appealing.”

So, in 15 months flat, Newman has planned the business, rounded up $2.2 million in capital, built the lab, bought the equipment and recruited a team of former prosecutor’s office staffers and scientists.

“You want to talk about life sciences?” said Newman, “DNA is life science.”

Politics played a role in raising the money. So did Parkinson’s.

A veteran campaigner, Newman said seeking business investments was easier than requesting political contributions-primarily because he’s confident investors will see a direct return.

“I refused any favors as prosecutor,” Newman said. “I wouldn’t fix a parking ticket for my own mother, and she wouldn’t ask. With Strand Labs, we’re going to deliver a direct dollar benefit.”

So Newman tapped investors with not only cash, but also bipartisan contacts-the kinds of people who can open doors with the city, county and state government officials whose own DNA labs can’t always handle the burgeoning workload, and who sometimes need to outsource the overload.

“There’s a political-with a small ‘p’-aspect to the DNA business,” Newman said. “Competing for contracts with state and local government requires sophisticated knowledge of the players.”

Among the strange political bedfellows investing in strand labs: Jeff Modisett, the man Newman beat for prosecutor in one of the nastiest Marion County campaigns on record, and Joe Andrew, Modisett’s thencampaign manager who went on to become national chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

What brought these former opponents together wasn’t just a promised return on investment. It was Parkinson’s.

When Newman went public with his diagnosis, Modisett called to break the ice. “I didn’t apologize for the campaign,” Newman said, “But I did go back and watch my commercials. I told Jeff I was astounded at how harsh they were. They made my blood run cold.”

After years of animosity, Newman and Andrew met a few years ago to mend fences and discuss Parkinson’s. Andrew has advocated research and treatment for the disease since his father, Jerry, was diagnosed.

United by a disease, these once-bitter opponents are now in business together.

Once Strand Labs is accredited (Newman hopes that will be in 30 to 45 days), the sparring for contracts begins in earnest.

Newman admits to being nervous about his new venture, and ever-conscious of the differences between politics and private enterprise. “As prosecutor, the citizens were stuck with me. I was their guy, even if they didn’t vote for me.

“In this job, customers can choose me or not. Shareholders can choose me or not. I have to earn it every day.”

I’m picking Newman by a knockout in round 1.

Hetrick is president and CEO of Hetrick Communications Inc., an Indianapolis-based public relations and marketing communications firm. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to

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