A Rare Breed

Talking bull with Sherry Fabina-Abney

Published in 2009 Indiana Super Lawyers — March 2009

Sherry Fabina-Abney, a partner at Ice Miller in Indianapolis, works until the cows come home. Then she goes home to them.

As she drives up the long, crunchy gravel road leading to her elegant home perched atop a hill in rural Johnson County, Fabina-Abney is greeted by her family's herd of purebred Belted Galloway cattle. It's a rare breed, indeed. According to the Belted Galloway Society, there are only approximately 14,000 registered Belties in the United States, belonging to about 1,000 breeders. The Abneys fell in love with the breed 10 years ago after seeing them on a farm they were considering buying.

Originating from Galloway in southwest Scotland, Belties are primarily raised for their quality marbled beef. "My family eats well," says Fabina-Abney as she and her husband, Doug Abney, lean on the fence surrounding their wooded 18-acre property.

Doug proudly shows visitors their spring-fed lake, the biggest sycamore tree in Johnson County ("so we've been told," Fabina-Abney says with a laugh), and the family's two bulls: 2,000-pound Max and slightly thinner Gus, who was Doug's 16th wedding anniversary gift to his wife.

The bucolic farm is a far cry from the steel mills of Michigan City, where Fabina-Abney was raised by former University of Pennsylvania football standout John Fabina and his wife Suzanne Kiniry Fabina.

After graduating from Purdue University in 1985, Fabina-Abney moved to Bloomington to attend the Indiana University School of Law. While her favorite instructor was tort law professor Roger Dworkin—"If he had a cult, I would be a Dworkinite!" she says—it was professor Joseph Hoffman who recommended her as a judicial clerk to Judge Michael S. Kanne of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit.

"In making a trip to Chicago, we traveled up to the Indiana Toll Road and then to the Chicago Skyway," Kanne says. "Sherry was driving the vehicle, new to her, and I was reading legal briefs in the passenger seat.

"As we approached the toll booth on the Chicago Skyway, Sherry accidentally lowered both the driver's side and the passenger windows," he continues. "Once the toll was paid, we proceeded on but Sherry realized that the lowered windows had become inoperable. This was particularly attention grabbing because it was December and the temperature was hovering around zero degrees. The distance from the toll booth to the Dirksen Federal Building downtown was approximately 15 miles."

Traveling at 65 miles per hour, the two got a bit chilly. "I know Sherry felt she was not making a very good impression on her new boss," Kanne says with a laugh.

Fabina-Abney's car troubles didn't end there. As a second-year law student, she drove a clunker of a red 1972 Ford Maverick that Doug had bought and refurbished for her. "I called it ‘The Bloodmobile' because it leaked transmission fluid," Fabina-Abney says.

"On my way to an interview at Ice Miller, I was driving downhill, past the IU football stadium, when the brakes went out on the car," she says. "I kept pressing on the brake but there was absolutely nothing. I was picking up speed when I spotted a huge bush in front of the Seventh Day Adventist Church. I went for it!"

The Bloodmobile came to a stop. In her only suit, Fabina-Abney frantically rushed into the church where ladies were preparing for a rummage sale in the basement. 

"I apologized for damaging their bush, gave them my insurance information and told them that I would call a tow truck," she says. "Then I walked to the Hertz on Walnut Street, rented a car and got to the interview on time. I was too embarrassed to mention the events of the morning."

She didn't get an offer for the firm's summer program. But after working at Callahan & Riley, Ice Miller partner Harry Gonso offered her a summer position at the firm. "I laminated his letter and it hangs in my office to this day," she says.

Fabina-Abney joined Ice Miller full-time in 1989, and now provides litigation, risk management and general legal services to hospitals and health care entities and professionals.

Client James Alender, president and CEO of Kokomo's Howard Regional Health System, sings her praises. "Sherry has counseled with Howard Regional Health System for over 10 years on issues specific to the laws affecting the relationship between our hospital and our medical staff. She brings creativity to her role, building consensus and devising solutions in what are often emotionally charged situations. By taking the time to get to know the people she works with, Sherry is able to transcend political and personality-driven issues."

A graduate of the Richard G. Lugar Excellence in Public Service Series, Fabina-Abney has served as a precinct committeewoman, delegate to the Indiana State Republican Convention, and Indiana delegate to the National Federation of Republican Women's 2003 Convention.

It was through the Franklin Republican Women's Club that she became friends with Janet Alexander, the city's clerk-treasurer. Doug, who already knew her as the president of Johnson County's United Way, would enthrall the two with tales of his trip to the 2006 Circle of Champions Cattle Camp at the University of Tennessee. Not to be outdone, the next year Fabina-Abney drove her truck 400 miles to the camp, cow trailer in tow. She was accompanied by Janet, a neighbor and her daughter, the Abney girls (Angela, 16, and Alexandra, 13) and three Beltie steers—King Arthur, Socks and Timmy.

The trip didn't always go as planned—"Doug cautioned me not to try going through a drive-through with a six-wheel truck that is pulling a trailer with cows," Fabina-Abney says with a self-deprecating grin—but it was worth it.

"The week was unique," says Alexander. "Three women, three teenage girls, and three cows on a road trip!

"I admire Sherry because she is a terrific lawyer and an incredibly loving mom," she continues. "She knows how to balance work and family and keeps it all very fun. I am in awe of how she chooses to live her life."

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