Culver home to annual gathering of Hoosier women judges, attorneys

Unbeknownst to many in Culver, some 60 women attorneys and judges from the Indiana State Bar Association (ISBA) gather annually in Culver to take part in the annual Women's Bench Bar Retreat. Each year (this was the 12th), on the last weekend of February of first weekend of March, the women gather to earn Continuing Legal Education credits (required of each attorney), take part in "Appeals on Wheels" (during which the Indiana Court of Appeals presents an oral argument on-site), and relax. There are opportunities for shopping at Culver businesses, dining at Culver restaurants, and spa-type services such as manicures, pedicures, and massages along the way.

This year's “Appeal on Wheels,” instead hosting a Court of Appeals oral argument to kick off the program, included an oral argument of the Indiana Tax Court. Following the oral argument the judges answer a few questions (not about the case just argued), after which the judges leave and an attorney leads the audience in a discussion of the argument that they just saw. The proceedings are open to the public, notes Hammond-based attorney Kris Sakelaris, in her 12th year as chair of the retreat.

Other presenters this year included a professor from the Indiana University McKinney School of Law, a federal prosecutor and public defender from Northwest Indiana, an attorney from Lafayette whose clients include college students all across Indiana, an Intellectual Property attorney from Ft. Wayne, a real estate and business attorney from Fishers, and a former Commissioner of Securities who spoke on avoiding Securities Fraud, says Harris.

Several participants come year after year and this year there were also a lot of first time attendees this year.

Plus, in an effort to include younger women, the ISBA offers four full scholarships to law students (each Indiana law school is encouraged to choose a student to attend), according to Cheri Harris, Director of Continuing Legal Education with the Indiana State Bar Association in Indianapolis. Additionally, the Young Lawyers Section of the ISBA offers two full scholarships to its members.

"It is a more casual atmosphere than most other bar programs," Harris adds.

"We wanted to get an environment where we could have a retreat," Sakelaris says of the choice of the Culver Cove as retreat site. "We bring female judges and female practiotioners together in a stress-free environment...the Cove provides condos so people could room together, not like in a hotel. Plus there are outside classrooms as opposed to a stark hotel with conference rooms."

Sakelaris says this time of year was chosen intentionally for its "off-season" time frame.

"We kind of take over the place. We do (the restaurants) and other things in town. We have one or two apellate court judges who love to shop there. Sometimes some of us stay at the Main Street Bed and Breakfast if we go over our numbers...but we like to keep it small. It's a good way just to get to know people. We've had at least five people come every year; it's a lot of fun; lots of laughs."

Sakelaris investigated an alternative location six or seven years ago, she says, but "we really couldn't find someplace isolated enough that still had some amenities in town, where we could get some condos and not just hotel rooms."

A number of other State Bar activities are further south in Indiana, says Sakelaris, and a number of attendees at the Culver event come from as far south as Bloomington and beyond.

Next year's event is already scheduled for the weekend of Feb. 28.

"It's fun and we have a good time," she adds. "We love Culver. And everybody says we should come in the summer!"