- Associated Press - Saturday, October 25, 2014

EVANSVILLE, Ind. (AP) - About four decades ago, he was a young Democrat who made a meager salary working on campaign trails. He occasionally stayed in supporters’ homes because the budget was too tight to pay for hotel rooms.

Little did he know or dream that one day he would make what could very well be the state’s most historic ruling, one that paved the way for equality for same-sex couples in Indiana. More recently, federal Judge Richard Young made another major decision, one that could completely alter Marion County’s tradition of electing its judges.

His ascent to the judicial ranks began at a relatively young age. In many ways, it was made possible by personal and professional connections who recognized his qualifications for the job and were in the right political positions to help get him on the bench.

But before his name was associated with landmark rulings, Young was - and still is - an unapologetic progressive who, as a college student at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, admired the likes of President John F. Kennedy and his brother, Robert Kennedy. The younger of the two sons of a pharmacy owner and a homemaker said he was inspired by the Kennedys’ ideas on civil rights and equality for all.

Such was echoed in Young’s 36-page decision issued in June that ruled Indiana’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.

“In time, Americans will look at the marriage of couples … and refer to it simply as a marriage - not a same-sex marriage,” he wrote. “These couples, when gender and sexual orientation are taken away, are in all respects like the family down the street.”

He said that could very well be his legacy.

“I would think that would be the one that years from now,” Young, 61, told The Indianapolis Star (http://indy.st/1tfcFi5 ), “people will remember.”

For someone who is not an Indiana native, Young rose through the ranks quickly on the strength of personal and professional skills, as well as connections he had made throughout his career, said Patrick Shoulders, a friend and a longtime Evansville attorney.

Before he moved to Indiana, Young began as a county coordinator for then-U.S. Sen. Birch Bayh’s presidential campaign. Bayh came to Iowa to participate in the caucuses leading up to the presidential election in 1976. Young, then in his early 20s, was part of a staff of no more than six people. He met the senator’s son, Evan Bayh, who was a college sophomore.

A friendship began, one that would later prove to be valuable in Young’s career.

After Birch Bayh dropped out, Young moved to Washington, D.C., after he was asked to join another campaign. There, he met U.S. Rep. Philip Hayes, a Democrat from Evansville who was running for the U.S. Senate.

It was another connection that would later help shape Young’s career as a trial lawyer.

“You know, you work on campaigns not only to support the people whose ideas you believe in, but also, for a young person like myself,” Young said, “it’s to get to know other individuals who have similar interests, which may come back in future years in terms of networking or getting to know others through those individuals to help your career path.”

After Hayes’ unsuccessful Senate bid, Young continued working for the congressman until he finished his term. After graduating from George Mason University School of Law in Virginia in 1980, he moved to Evansville with his wife, Rose, whom he met in Washington, D.C. For the next decade, he practiced law with Hayes, who had left politics and resumed his practice in Evansville.

Young said he was never one to sit behind a desk. He loves being in the courtroom.

“During jury trials, your adrenaline starts to flow,” said Young, who focused his practice on criminal defense, “and it seems to me that defending someone who is charged with a crime is a noble and honorable way to practice law.”

The young lawyer quickly became well-respected, Shoulders said, and later became city attorney for Evansville and a public defender for Vanderburgh Circuit Court. He was one of the attorneys who defended the first man in 30 years to face the death penalty in Vanderburgh County.

When Young decided he wanted to be a judge, he didn’t have to wait long for the opportunity.

Judge William Miller of Vanderburgh Circuit Court retired early in 1990. The governor had to appoint someone to the vacant seat. And at that time, the governor was Young’s old friend, Evan Bayh. Young applied and was appointed to the bench. He was 37.

He served eight years, until another opportunity presented itself. A seat on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana became available. And the person who could help him get there was in the perfect position to do so. Bayh, then a U.S. senator, recommended Young for the federal bench. He was nominated by President Bill Clinton and was confirmed by the Senate in 1998. He has been chief judge since 2009.

As he sat in his Evansville chambers talking about his career, he cited an old saying about luck.

“The definition of luck is being prepared when the opportunity presents itself. Any federal judge would tell you that the stars need to be aligned right,” he said with a smile.

Bayh speaks fondly of the young man he met on his father’s campaign trail. Three decades later, he said that man has not changed. It’s a quality he called both rare and attractive.

“In public life, there’s no shortage of big egos and self-important people,” Bayh said. “Judge Young, throughout his life, has always demonstrated a level of humility that I find to be very refreshing. He may be the most important person in the room, but he’ll never behave that way.”

Young is not one to take himself too seriously, said Judge Leslie Shively of Vanderburgh Superior Court. He and Young are board members of Youth First, an Evansville-based nonprofit organization that helps youths, parents, educators and businesses fight substance abuse.

“He’s a very low-key kind of guy. He doesn’t bring attention to himself. He doesn’t make a big deal that he already is a federal judge,” said Shively, a Republican. “He’s just one of the board members, one of the guys.”

As a judge, he is neither aloof nor domineering, Shoulders said. He described Young as pleasant in the courtroom, a judge who respects trial lawyers who appear before him. Young said that’s how he wants to be perceived.

“You don’t want individuals coming into your courtroom believing that they’re not going to be treated fairly. That’s uppermost in my mind,” he said. “You always want to be portrayed as someone who gives a good thought to people’s concerns and doesn’t make decisions without giving good consideration.”

Young acknowledged he had thought about running for office. But its appeal didn’t last very long.

“You’re away from home. You’re constantly raising money. You’re constantly campaigning,” he said. “It’s hard when you’re raising a family.”

Young and his wife, Rose, who was a chief of staff to then-Evansville Mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel, have two children and two grandchildren.

Bayh said it’s too soon to say whether the same-sex marriage decision would be his old friend’s legacy.

“Society’s attitude on that issue is evolving so rapidly,” Bayh said. “If we’re answering that question today, yes, that would be the answer.”

Young said his decision to declare the state’s ban on gay marriage unconstitutional, like others he has made, was met with different reactions, favorable and otherwise.

“That’s the job of a judge, to make a decision, to look at the facts and apply the law as he determines those facts,” he said. “I find it to be a very satisfying role.”

Although he misses political activity and the people with whom he has worked in politics, Young said he has not looked back since he took the bench.

There’s nowhere else he’d rather be, he said, than in the courtroom.

___

Information from: The Indianapolis Star, http://www.indystar.com

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