I had to smile at one of John Sharpnack’s comments about his former law partner, Maurice “Pat” David.
“Pat was an easygoing kind of fellow,” the retired jurist said last week. “But he also had a great desire to do well for his clients.”
I can personally attest to both qualities. I encountered the latter in late January 1980, when I was managing editor of The Republic and he was an attorney representing the Bartholomew County Council.
Pat had called me in response to an earlier story in The Republic about some kind of action taken by the council that The Republic described as a violation of the state’s Open Door law. To be honest I can’t remember the subject, but I sure do recall how Pat reacted to my explanation.
After listening for several minutes to his objections about the subject in question in the story, I blithely suggested that all we were talking about was a matter of semantics.
Wrong answer to give to a fellow who had served as a Superior Court judge and before that as a Marine Corps officer.
“This has nothing to do with semantics,” he said in an even tone that still sends shivers down my spine. “We’re talking about a flat-out mistake on the part of the newspaper that needs to be admitted immediately.”
I had called John for some of his reflections about Pat, who died Nov. 13 at the age of 94 in Nashville. A memorial service will be conducted at 11 a.m. today at First United Methodist Church in Columbus. Visitation will be from 9 to 11 a.m.
His recollections were of a man who carried throughout his life many of the values he had held from the time he was growing up in Nashville, through a 22-year period of service in the Marines and into a legal career in Bartholomew County in which he served in both a public and private capacity.
Along the way he influenced a lot of people.
I still remember a letter to the editor written 10 years ago by Columbus attorney Mike Thomasson. He was writing in support of a fellow attorney who was a candidate for Superior Court 1 judge, which was the same court over which Pat had presided several years earlier. In endorsing a candidate in 2006, Mike referenced Pat’s earlier tenure.
“Years ago I received some very sage advice from a man for whom I have always had great respect, Maurice ‘Pat’ David,” Mike wrote. “Pat related to me advice he had received as a brand-new judge from Julian Sharpnack (John Sharpnack’s grandfather). Pat told me that judges should treat the people who come before them as clients. They have problems that require resolution. The judge is there to treat them with courtesy and understanding and provide solutions to the best of his ability, not become part of the problem.”
That was a sentiment Pat had expressed in a 2001 ceremony marking his retirement as a senior judge. He was one of the first 10 senior judges appointed under a law passed by the Indiana General Assembly to provide assistance to sitting judges who were on vacation, became ill, resigned or otherwise needed help.
After receiving a Sagamore of the Wabash award signed by Gov. Frank O’Bannon, Pat told the crowd of his friends and peers that judges have to be considerate of attorneys and clients because they are already under stress when they appear in court and do not need the judge to irritate them further.
Although he would later travel the world as a Marine Corps officer, Pat’s life from birth was rooted in Indiana and especially the area around his birthplace, Nashville. He attended Indiana University at a time when the legendary Herman Wells was leading the school.
“I still remember a story Pat told me long ago about an encounter he had with Herman Wells,” John said. “Pat was working at the Brown County State Park as a lifeguard, and the thing he never forgot was that he taught Herman Wells how to swim.”
His military career as a Marine began during World War II. He served in combat and was wounded during action in the Pacific. He was later awarded a Purple Heart.
He stayed in the Marines after the war ended and was selected by superior officers to attend George Washington University Law School in Washington, D.C. He rose through the ranks to the position of lieutenant colonel, serving in far-off places such as Thailand and later back home in Washington as a legislative liaison for the Marines.
Upon retiring from the Marines in 1964, he returned to Indiana and settled in Columbus with his wife, Marty, and their two daughters.
He adapted well to his new community, winning election to the Superior Court judgeship in 1965, a year after his discharge from the Marines and his arrival in Columbus. He served one term and then joined Columbus’ oldest law firm, Sharpnack, Bigley, David and Rumple.
He and Marty became involved in their community, especially their Harrison Township neighborhood.
“I’d have to say that Marty was the more gregarious of the two,” John said. “But Pat definitely made his presence felt. At our annual Harrison Township Omelet Brunch, Pat was the designated ‘people mover,’ the one in charge of making sure the lines moved smoothly.”
I suspect his Marine Corps training served him well in that capacity.
Even in his retirement, Pat stayed involved. I still recall a situation he brought to light during the design phase of The Cole apartment building at Second and Jackson streets.
Prior to that, the block on which the building was to be located was empty. That emptiness provided an open view of the Bartholomew County Courthouse as motorists drove across the Second Street Bridge. The scene of that building in its entirety had become iconic and was used by many as the official welcome to Columbus.
Pat recognized that the new building would block the view of a portion of the courthouse, spoiling what for many was a symbol of Columbus, and made that point in an unsuccessful attempt to have the design of the new building changed.
He might have lost that one, but in a much bigger sense he won. It showed he cared.
Harry McCawley is the former associate editor of The Republic. He can be reached at email@example.com.