Federal Judge Barker to scale back after 30 years

(File Photo)
(File Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The longest-serving federal judge in Indianapolis has decided after 30 years in the position to scale back her duties — but just a bit.

Judge Sarah Evans Barker has notified President Barack Obama she plans to shift to senior status effective June 30, the U.S. District Court for Southern Indiana announced.

After a new judge is appointed, Barker intends to continue carrying a slightly lighter caseload, about 80 percent of the number of cases she works now.

But that, she said Tuesday, will open the door for an additional judge that the court desperately needs.

She also has personal reasons for not completely retiring.

“I really like the work,” she said.

Barker, 70, grew up in Mishawaka in northern Indiana and worked at a car dealership and a dime store before turning to law. She was the first woman to serve as a federal judge in Indiana, and one of the first in the country.

Since she was appointed to her current seat by President Ronald Reagan in 1984, Barker has become known for her plain-spoken, humorous courtroom style.

“Her courtroom is a no-spin zone. You go in there and tell it like it is or she’s going to tell you like it is,” Chief Federal Public Defender Monica Foster said Tuesday.

Barker said she’s just being herself and trying to make sense of what’s put in front of her.

“I’m not there as a spectator. I’m supposed to be making something of all this,” Barker said. And, she added, “You want to get it right.”

Barker upheld Indiana’s voter ID law in 2006, but blocked implementation of much of the state’s new immigration law in 2011.

Other decisions have included her order in 2000 to seize the Indianapolis Baptist Temple to get $6 million in back taxes and penalties. The church had stopped withholding federal income and Social Security taxes from its employees’ paychecks in 1984, saying that withholding taxes would make it an agent of the government.

Foster said Barker has been a role model not just for women in law, but for women in general over the decades.

That doesn’t mean Barker is entirely satisfied.

“The pay differentials still exist,” she said, referring to the fact that women still earn less than men who work similar jobs.

But she’s not giving up.

“There are still lots of new hills left to climb and lots of ways to see the world,” Barker said.

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