This is the fifty-fourth Court Times article highlighting a member of the Indiana Judiciary
Judge Geoffrey A. Gaither is a 2020 appointment to the Marion County Superior Court bench. He graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 1982 with a bachelor’s degree in Urban Planning and Design. In 1985, he earned his J.D. from Howard University School of Law. Judge Gaither completed the Indiana Graduate Judges Program in 2012 and the Indiana Judicial Masters Certificate in 2020 (pending review).
What prompted you to study law?
My original goal was to become an architect. I soon realized my desire was greater than my skill set. I changed my career plans and developed a talent for public speaking, debate, and critical thinking. My roommate decided to go to law school, and we would talk about the law quite a bit. A charismatic, local Cincinnati attorney taught my planning and zoning class, and he piqued my interest in the law. Finally, President Reagan said in his first inaugural that there were too many planners in our society and not enough doers. I concluded I needed to change careers. So, I applied to law school with the ultimate plan to combine architecture, planning, and the law to become a commercial real estate developer.
What was your childhood like?
I grew up on the east side of Indianapolis six blocks away from IPS #37, which is right next to the Juvenile Detention Center. I went to that school from kindergarten to 8th grade. We had playgrounds separated from ‘juvie’ by a patch of grass and a chain link fence. I knew some of the kids in detention, because they were the older brothers and cousins of my friends. They would frequently threaten me with bodily harm if I did not bring wire cutters. I laugh now…but not then. My father was an urban renaissance man who liked to ride motorcycles, scuba dive, fly airplanes, go camping, and made a living as a photographer, eventually becoming the official state photographer for Indiana governors. My mother was an educator employed as a teacher, vice-principal, and principal in the Indianapolis Public School system. She loved to shop, drink coffee, read books, write letters, and send thank you notes. My older brother is an independent businessman who loves his wife, dogs, and played the saxophone growing up. I am the youngest in the family and perfectly embody all of the interests of my parents—except shopping and flying airplanes. I attended Bethel A.M.E. Church and Witherspoon Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis.
What is the most challenging aspect of your job and what brings you joy?
The most challenging aspect of being a juvenile court judge is being a real-time witness to the consequences of family trauma. Watching children and families struggle to survive in the face of poverty, substance abuse, mental health, racism, and every other documented form of societal dysfunctionalism is painful. But this is what brings me the most joy, also. It is somehow through grace that some children find a way to discover joy and happiness and their true strength. I have seen so many kids rise and lift themselves up despite their tough circumstances. A young man approached me once in Nordstrom Rack and said I had sent him to Indiana Boys School several years before that day. He saw me and took the time to thank me for sending him away. This young man said going to Boys School gave him an opportunity to get his life together and get on the right path. Then he had me talk to his grandmother, who also thanked me. Made my day.
What career would you choose if you weren’t already in this field?
Growing up my dream job was to become an architect. It was my first love. I loved to draw house plans and urban landscapes. Still do! I would love to work in an architectural firm doing residential and commercial developments. Either that or running a scuba diving shop somewhere in the Caribbean.
Do you have a favorite hobby?
I am an avid cyclist. I started when I was young and would ride for hours with friends. I wrote my college thesis on Bikeways Planning in Cincinnati. I have ridden my bike all over the country including Indiana’s Hilly Hundred in 2013 and 2014. Nowadays, you are likely to find me riding the hills and curves in various state parks. There is a peace and tranquility I feel when riding on an early fall morning. The only sound you hear is the spinning of the chain, birds chirping and the wind blowing through the leaves. There’s nothing better.
Where is your getaway spot, a place where you like to relax?
I love the beach. Any beach. As long as the water is clear, the sun is hot, and the sand is soft. I could spend months doing nothing but reading, building sandcastles, and splashing in the surf. I find that to be completely relaxing. When my children were younger, we would frequently travel to Gulf Shores, Alabama. It has always been a family-favorite vacation spot.
What’s your favorite meal, place to eat, or recipe? Why?
I love fried catfish! My mother-in-law cooked the best catfish and baked the best pound cake and homemade rolls I ever had in my life. I miss my mother’s pumpkin pie and my dad’s chili.
What are you looking forward to in the next year or two?
I am looking forward to becoming an empty nester, and I am enjoying watching my children grow into adulthood. My wife and I have 3 boys: ages 29, 25, and 20. Each has been a complete joy and continue to fill our lives with delight, satisfaction and, yes, curiosity.
Do you have any advice for your colleagues?
Black Lives Matter. There have been many times—and more than I care to count—where my humanity was denied because of the color of my skin. Race continues to be a defining moment in this country. We must embrace racial equity and inclusion as a principle and not as a slogan.
I believe the most important characteristics of a judge is to show compassion, dignity, and patience. Judging is an awesome and humbling responsibility. We are often required to make decisions for people who have never experienced the advantages of life that we take for granted. “There, but for the grace of God go I.” That is something I think about every day, in every case, and of every child and family. Do you know your privilege? My privilege is based upon growing up in a home full of love and support from my mother and father who were husband and wife until death. I do not take that for granted. Empathy. Don’t leave home without it.