This is the thirteenth of our Court Times articles that highlight up close and personal a member of the Indiana Judiciary. Dearborn-Ohio County Circuit Court Judge James D. Humphrey is our judge featured in this issue. He is a 1980 graduate of Indiana University, Bloomington, Bachelor of Arts, Phi Beta Kappa and with highest distinction, and a 1983 graduate of Indiana University, Bloomington, Law School, cum laude. He served as Deputy Prosecuting Attorney, Dearborn-Ohio Counties from 1984-1986 and as Prosecuting Attorney, Dearborn-Ohio Counties 1987-1994. He served as Chairman, Prosecuting Attorneys Council from 1991-1992. He was elected in November 1998 as the Dearborn-Ohio County Circuit Court Judge and has served continuously in that capacity from January 1999 to the present. Judge Humphrey and his wife of twenty-five years, Heidi, are blessed with two sons. John, age 20, is a sophomore at Hanover College, and Alexander, age 18, is a Lawrenceburg High School Senior who will be attending the United States Air Force Academy in the fall of 2011.
What do you like most and least about being a Trial Court Judge?
One of the most challenging things about being a general jurisdiction trial judge is dealing with the variety of problems that you see on a daily basis. One minute you may be dealing with a felony, the next a problem in Juvenile Court, and then a domestic relations issue. While these different types of cases create challenges they also make our job extremely interesting. If there is one type of case which may provide the most personal satisfaction, I would have to say it is conducting an adoption. If you ever need a reinforcement and reminder that goodness still exists in this world, you see it each time an adoption is granted.
Maybe the greatest challenge that we as trial judges face is time – finding the time to conduct all the hearings, do the research, write the decisions and sometimes just to think about what we need to do. Many of us cannot find this time during the regular work day which is why we spend a lot of time catching up on evenings and weekends.
The other interesting thing about my job is that I have the honor of representing two counties, Dearborn and Ohio Counties.
What was your major in college and why did you decide to study law?
My major was political science. My grade school and high school friend, Randy Hesser, and I decided to study Law in about our sophomore year of high school. The idea probably came from watching lawyer shows on television. As seniors, we also acted in the high school play, a trial drama “The Night of January 16th.” Randy played the prosecutor and I played the defense attorney. There is some irony here since I later became a Prosecuting Attorney. Randy is now a partner in a law firm in Elkhart specializing in businesses law.
What would you do if you were not a Judge?
I would probably enter another challenging profession—teaching. I love to help teach young lawyers trial skills and in general what it means to be a member of the legal profession.
I also love to teach others how to fly-fish. I’ve even taught my wife and children. Some have also suggested that I should open up a barbeque shack, since I like to cook. I am afraid, however, that if I would engage in these hobbies as a profession that they would become much less enjoyable.
Who are the people you most admire?
It has been a tradition for many years in this community for one of our Judges to give a speech on Memorial Day at the Greendale Cemetery. I have now given the Memorial Day Address for twelve years. I like to speak each year about a local veteran and their experiences serving our country. In preparing these speeches I had the privilege of meeting and listening to the war experiences of two World War II Veterans, Chester Lester and Robert “Sarge” Schwing. Mr. Lester was in the second wave of landings on Omaha Beach on D-Day. Mr. Schwing received a Silver Star for dragging a man to safety on Guadalcanal. These very humble men and many others like them stood tall when America needed them most. Their stories are fascinating and an inspiration. They are my heroes. Mr. Lester recently died at the age of 89. Mr. Schwing has turned 90.
My judicial hero is federal District Court Judge Sarah Evans Barker—I think she is terrific.
What are your hobbies or favorite leisure activities, and how did you first get involved?
All my life I had wanted to learn how to fly-fish. When I was first elected as Circuit Court Judge my father-in-law gave me a fly-rod. Fly-fishing has since become a passion. All of our vacations are spent fly-fishing in the mountains of North Carolina, Tennessee or the west.
I have also become involved in outdoor cooking. Several years ago my wife, Heidi, gave me an outdoor smoker and I now cook for all holidays and family events. One of my specialties is Apple Wood Smoked Pork Shoulder.
What are your favorite books, and have you read any recently, or are reading now, that you would recommend?
Some books that I have read over the years which remain with me are John Hersey’s Hiroshima; Miracle at Philadelphia by Catherine Drinker Bowen; and the Reagan Diaries by Ronald Reagan. I am currently reading Robert Graves’ I Claudius. And of course, I read my fly-fishing magazines every month.
Where did you grow up and how would you describe your childhood?
I grew up on a small farm in Bright, Indiana. We grew tobacco and raised hogs and cattle. One of my best memories as a child is of going with my father to the farm of a neighbor named “Red” on Sunday afternoons. All the local farmers came to Red’s to sit around a wood stove and tell stories. Even though I heard a lot of things I probably shouldn’t have at my young age, I thought it was great. My favorite activities as a child were squirrel hunting and, of course, fishing.
Do you have a favorite quote(s)?
“This too shall pass.”
Where is your favorite vacation spot?
No question, our favorite vacation spot is Yellowstone National Park. The wildlife, the scenery, and the geysers make it is the most interesting place I have ever seen. Of course, it is also one of the greatest fly-fishing locations in the country.
Do you have a favorite meal, recipe and restaurant?
My wife, Heidi, has become an excellent cook over our twenty-five years of marriage. For major events, family events and holidays I normally cook the main course and my wife cooks all the side dishes. Some of our favorite meals include grilled halibut with a lemon caper sauce; bacon wrapped grilled pork tenderloin with orange cherry sauce; smoked turkey; pulled pork shoulder; grilled salmon and beer can chicken (call me for the recipe).
We sometimes go out for dinner to our local Mexican and Chinese restaurants. We also save our change in a large jar and for special occasions go to McCormick and Schmick’s Restaurant in Cincinnati for seafood.