Hon. Judith A. Stewart
April 13, 2011 by James F. Maguire
This is the fourteenth of our Court Times articles that highlight up close and personal a member of the Indiana Judiciary. Brown County Circuit Court Judge Judith A. Stewart is our judge featured in this issue. Following law school, she accepted a one year clerkship for a federal judge, The Honorable Harold Baker, in Danville, Illinois, then returned to Indianapolis to practice law in general civil litigation with Lewis, Bowman, St. Clair and Wagner, now Lewis and Wagner. She moved to Brown County in 1986, and in 1988 was hired to serve as Referee of the Brown County Circuit Court for then Circuit Court Judge Samuel Rosen. When Judge Rosen chose not to run for reelection, she was elected Judge of the Brown County Circuit Court and took office January 1, 1991. In 1993, President William Clinton appointed her to serve as the United States attorney for the Southern District of Indiana, a position she held until 2000 when she had the privilege of returning to the bench in Brown County. Judge Stewart has served as judge of the Brown County Circuit Court since February 2000.
What do you like most and least about being a trial court judge?
What I like best, hands down, is the privilege of presiding over jury trials. With each trial, regardless of the verdict, my faith in our jury system is renewed. Time after time, citizens step forward to answer the call to jury duty. I have now conducted over 100 jury trials, and can honestly say that in every single case, the jurors have been conscientious and tried their best to reach a fair and impartial verdict. I am honored to be a part of our system of justice. What I like least is my tendency to worry and second guess my decisions.
What was your major in college and why did you decide to study law?
I majored in English and German at Butler University. My mother was a legal secretary, and I grew up hearing her tell stories about how attorneys were able to help people. I think my early perception of the law as a noble profession had a lot to do with my decision to study the law.
What would you do if you were not a judge?
I truly am not sure, and I hope I do not to have to find out too soon!
Who are the people you most admire?
Close to home, my family for their strength, kindness and selflessness. On a larger stage, former Attorney General Janet Reno for her courage and integrity, and President Obama for his dignity and open mindedness in the face of incredible challenges.
What are your hobbies or favorite leisure activities, and how did you first get involved?
I love activities that put me in touch with nature, including backpacking, camping, and nature oriented travel, especially if we can include our dog and a little adventure!
What are your favorite books, and have you read any recently, or are reading now, that you would recommend?
I love to read, mostly fiction, and it is hard to narrow down my “favorites.” In terms of classics and plays, I love William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. Toni Morrison’s Beloved has to be one of my favorites as well. For “escape” reading, I love Randy Wayne White’s crime/mystery novels. Books I have read recently and would recommend include once recently recommended to me, Kathryn Stockett’s The Help.
Where did you grow up and how would you describe your childhood?
I grew up in Speedway, Indiana, in a middle class working neighborhood in the same house my mother still lives in. I grew up with my mother, her mother and father, and my sister. I would describe my childhood as the kind I wish every child could have—a childhood with some wonderful memories as well as some “character building” obstacles to overcome, but full of unconditional love and great role models.
Do you have a favorite quote(s)?
“Never give in, never give in, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.”
Also, Edmund Burke’s:
“All that is necessary for the forces of evil to win in the world is for enough good men to do nothing,”
and John Muir’s:
“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”
However, I think a more apropos quote for me might be Catherine Aird’s
“If you can’t be a good example, then you’ll just have to be a horrible warning.”
Where is your favorite vacation spot?
My husband and I love to travel, and some of my favorite places we have been include Nepal, Venezuela, Bhutan and Uganda. The beauty of the nature, wildlife and people we encountered in these countries was remarkable. In the last two years, especially with the smaller economy, we have fallen in love with canoe camping in the Minnesota Boundary Waters, which has the added benefit of being able to take our dog with us!
Do you have a favorite meal, recipe, and restaurant?
No real favorite—I just love to eat!