Northern District of Indiana Federal Court: A Storied History and Integral Part of the State’s Judiciary
The Northern District of Indiana is one of the 94 federal judicial districts that comprise the United States federal court system. As a trial level court, it handles both civil and criminal matters that arise under federal law throughout its designated region in the northern portion of the Hoosier state. The court has a long and interesting history, dating back nearly a century. Today, it continues to play a vital role in the administration of justice for Indiana residents and businesses.
Overview of the Northern District of Indiana
The Northern District of Indiana spans 32 counties across the northern half of the state. It reaches as far north as the Michigan border, over to the Ohio border on the east, and down to north-central Indiana. The district has an estimated population of over 2.5 million residents as of the 2020 census.
The court was officially established on April 21, 1928, pursuant to an act of Congress. This divided Indiana into two federal judicial districts after having been a single district since its admission to statehood in 1816. The Northern District handles cases from roughly the upper half of the state, while the Southern District of Indiana, headquartered in Indianapolis, covers the lower half.
Over its nearly century-long existence, the Northern District has seen its share of notable cases across all areas of federal law. This includes landmark rulings on issues from free speech to employment discrimination to white collar criminal matters. On average, the court handles approximately 2,500 cases per year. The mix is typically about 65% civil and 35% criminal.
Key Courthouses and Locations
The Northern District is unique in that it does not have a single dedicated courthouse for the entire district. Rather, it operates out of multiple different buildings spread across several cities.
The main courthouse is located in Hammond, Indiana. This houses the main clerk’s office and chambers of the chief judge. The address is 5400 Federal Plaza, Hammond, IN 46320.
South Bend, Indiana is also home to a major courthouse and chambers of several district judges. It is located at 204 S. Main Street, South Bend.
The city of Fort Wayne has a courthouse and judge’s chambers located in the Federal Building at 1300 S. Harrison Street.
Finally, Lafayette, Indiana houses a courthouse and judge’s quarters as well, situated at 230 N. 4th Street.
In total, between these four cities, the Northern District has facilities spanning over 185,000 square feet of space and 14 courtrooms.
Notable Cases Over the Years
The Northern District has presided over numerous influential cases that have shaped federal law and the rights of Indiana residents.
In the 1950s, the court decided several landmark First Amendment disputes, such as Hannegan v. Esquire Magazine, which established protections for free press.
In the civil rights arena, the Northern District ordered the desegregation of public schools in South Bend in the 1960s and 70s.
Prominent criminal cases include the 2012 sentencing of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich on corruption charges.
More recently in 2018, a judge blocked part of an Indiana abortion law placing certain restrictions on minors. This balanced individual rights against government public health interests.
Employment discrimination is also a hot topic. In 2020, the court approved a major gender bias settlement against Ceridian HCM Inc. on behalf of female employees.
From free speech to abortion to job discrimination, the Northern District has shaped the law across a range of critical issues facing society today.
Judges and Personnel
The Northern District has a total of five active district court judges nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. They each serve lifetime terms. The current judges are:
- Chief Judge Jon E. DeGuilio (appointed in 2014)
- Judge William C. Lee (appointed in 2018)
- Judge Damon R. Leichty (appointed in 2018)
- Judge Holly A. Brady (appointed in 2018)
- Judge Philip P. Simon (appointed in 2003)
In addition, the court has five magistrate judges who handle preliminary criminal matters and some civil cases on referral from district judges. Magistrates serve renewable 8-year terms.
Overseeing the daily operations is the Clerk of Court, currently Joseph S. Van Bokkelen. The clerk manages filings, exhibits, jurors, finances, and record keeping.
The U.S. Marshal for the district is Todd L. Nukes. He provides security for the courtrooms and judges, and carries out orders like seizing property.
The U.S. Attorney is Clifford D. Johnson – the chief federal prosecutor representing the United States in criminal cases.
Probation and pretrial services officers also play a big role, conducting background checks, preparing reports, and supervising those on probation.
Practical Information for Attorneys and Litigants
Those looking to utilize the Northern District Court should be aware of some key logistical details:
The main clerk’s office is located at the Hammond Courthouse, 5400 Federal Plaza #1100, Hammond, IN 46320. This handles intake for new civil and criminal filings across the district.
Attorneys who wish to practice in the court must be admitted by following the district’s admission procedures. This requires sponsorship by an active member and passing character and fitness review.
The Northern District has its own local rules on topics like civil discovery and criminal proceedings attorneys need to know. These supplement the Federal Rules of Civil and Criminal Procedure.
For anyone called to jury duty, instructions will be provided by mail. You’ll need to report to the courthouse noted in the summons. Employers are required to excuse you from work.
Litigants can find full phone and contact information for the various courthouses and personnel on the Northern District’s website at www.innd.uscourts.gov.
Civic Role and Community Outreach
Beyond adjudicating cases, the Northern District Court aims to educate the public and commemorate the federal judiciary’s history.
The court offers courthouse tours by appointment. Visitors can sit in courtrooms and learn about the judicial process.
Outreach programs for students and new citizens provide interactive lessons on the Constitution and branches of government.
On anniversaries, the court hosts re-enactments of famous past cases and exhibits of historical artefacts.
By engaging the community, the court connects citizens with the enduring legacy of the justice system.
For nearly a century, the Northern District of Indiana has served as a crucial judicial institution for the northern half of the state. Its four courthouses in Hammond, South Bend, Fort Wayne, and Lafayette see a wide range of important civil and criminal matters. The court strives not just to resolve disputes, but also educate the public. From its earliest days desegregating schools to recent discrimination cases, the Northern District protects rights, upholds laws, and interprets the Constitution for Indiana residents. The court’s presence across multiple cities embeds federal justice into local communities. While less famous than higher courts, the Northern District plays an integral role in the everyday administration of justice.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the requirements to serve on a jury for the Northern District?
Citizens must be at least 18 years old, a U.S. citizen, proficient in English, and have resided in the district for at least a year. People with certain prior convictions are disqualified. Jurors need to be physically and mentally capable of serving.
How can I pursue admission to practice law before the Northern District Court?
You must pass a state bar exam and follow the court’s admission procedures. This includes submitting an application, being sponsored by a current member, paying a fee, and undergoing a character and fitness assessment.
What district court would hear an appeal from the Northern District of Indiana?
Appeals from the Northern District go to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin. The Seventh Circuit courthouse is located in Chicago.
How can I find public records for cases filed in the Northern District of Indiana?
The clerk’s office in Hammond has an electronic records system called PACER which provides public access to docket sheets, filings, and documents in pending and closed civil and criminal cases.
When is the courthouse open for filings and other business?
The clerk’s office is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., except for federal holidays. Court sessions typically begin at 9:00 a.m. each weekday unless otherwise scheduled by the presiding judge.