August 19, 2009

Baker & Daniels Lawyers Helping Indiana Soldiers and Families

John Keeler of Baker & Daniels served in the U.S. Marine Corps for three years before law school. Lately, he's taken on several cases in the Indiana Lawyers for Soldiers program, which developed through a partnership between the Indiana National Guard and Baker & Daniels.

"So many guardsmen and women and reservists have been called to long periods of active duty," Keeler told the Indiana Lawyer in its "State's Lawyers Assist Soldiers: Pro Bono Program Helps Those With Civil Issues" story. "In the past, that wasn't the case. Families can have significant legal issues that arise when someone in the family is gone for an extended period of time."

While the issues themselves aren't necessarily out of the ordinary, Keeler said in the story, "a lot of them arise because if one of the spouses is away and making less money, there could be creditor problems as a result. It could also be that the spouse in a married couple who is deployed is the money manager of the family, and the remaining spouse lacks the experience to handle financial matters."

Keeler has assisted in a driver's license issue involving a deployed soldier and a dispute involving a soldier's wife who contracted someone to work for her, according to the Indiana Lawyer story. When she withheld payment because the job wasn't completed properly, a creditor started contacting her for payment.

Katrina Dittmer, a manager in Baker & Daniels' information technology department, developed a Web site - - for Indiana Lawyers for Soldiers. Through the Web site, deployed Indiana National Guard personnel can input their legal needs and apply for assistance - and attorneys can register to volunteer - the story reported.

Since the Web site was implemented, 73 attorneys have registered and 50 soldiers have submitted their information, Brita Horvath, Baker & Daniels diversity and pro bono coordinator, told the Indiana Lawyer.

Joseph Striewe, an Indianapolis attorney and retired U.S. Navy officer, said Indiana Lawyers for Soldiers can often better help soldiers with their civil issues than the Judge Advocate General's (JAG) Corps, which focus more on military issues.

"First of all, having been through a military career, what is really nifty about this program is it provides soldiers access to people who want to help them, and more importantly, it provides access to people who are better positioned and better equipped to help them (in civil matters) than what they already have access to," Striewe told the Indiana Lawyer.

Striewe added that the JAG is sometimes involved in the cases handled by the pro bono attorneys in Indiana Lawyers for Soldiers. One situation, the Indiana Lawyer reported, involved a young soldier who suffered catastrophic injuries when his vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device in early 2008. When he returned to Indiana, Guard officers were concerned about the accessibility of his housing for him and his family.

Baker & Daniels attorneys John Fleming and Rob Wynne represented the soldier regarding his long-term housing situation and helped the family transition into better living conditions for his medical and physical needs, according to the story. Fleming visited the soldier at his home in northern Indiana with Maj. Gen. Martin Umbarger, the Indiana National Guard's commanding officer, and Lt. Col. Brian Dickerson, Indiana National Guard's Judge Advocate General, to assess the soldier's circumstances. Dickerson continued to work on the matter after the visit.

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