Man Around Town

Thomas Bodkin enjoys life and work in small-town Indiana

Published in 2007 Indiana Super Lawyers — March 2007

In the dwindling September heat of southern Indiana, Thomas Bodkin can be found frying catfish at Newburgh’s Fiddler Fest. It’s not one of his official duties as the town’s attorney—it’s one he enjoys as a resident.

“It is really a pleasure, all the people I get to meet, the ways I get to assist them,” Bodkin says of Newburgh, population 4,000, which is located just outside of Evansville on the banks of the Ohio River. “It is nice knowing this is a place people want to live.”

For 22 years, the Bamberger, Foreman, Oswald and Hahn litigator has been the sole attorney responsible for the town’s legal matters—assuring ordinances remain within the law and council members follow proper procedures, as well as writing resolutions and contracts. It is a job he enjoys, and one that takes him away from the impetuous world of trial law (next year, he’ll serve as president of the Defense Trial Council of Indiana), where he concentrates in defense of medical malpractice lawsuits, orders for condemnation and commercial claims.

Originally from Fortville, Bodkin and his wife moved to Newburgh in 1975, two years after he graduated from the IU School of Law-Indianapolis. His professional relationship with his adopted home didn’t begin until 1984, when, while serving on the town’s historical preservation society, he and the other members realized the town needed counsel.

“Newburgh is full of history,” Bodkin says, explaining that the town was captured by Confederate soldiers during the Civil War and was a reported stop on the Underground Railroad. “We wanted to move forward with the town’s development, but also preserve its history.”

Bodkin soon had a hand in almost every aspect of Newburgh’s civic life. The highs of the job include festivals like Fiddler, wine-tasting fairs, as well as writing the resolution that created the town’s “sister city” relationship with Newburgh, England, allowing members of the American town, including Bodkin, to travel across the pond for the British town’s 700th birthday party in 2004. The lows don’t get much lower than writing resolutions honoring three civil servants and friends who died—the police chief of more than 20 years, a town councilman, and the fire chief, a former lawyer and friend of Bodkin’s, who died the day after he was elected judge.

“These were people with whom I had professional relationships, but were also personal friends who were dear to me,” Bodkin says. “It was difficult, but I think it acted as a nice eulogy.”

There are other challenges of working with a municipality, which Bodkin likens to representing a corporation, except “the people in charge tend to turn over.” He must please both political parties while keeping his own views as far from policy decisions as possible.

“I was not elected to vote, so I can’t vote and I shouldn’t vote,” Bodkin says. “It is my job to present the options allowed within the law, and make sure [the law] is followed.”

He does, however, get “to meet wonderful people” and helpguide his city in a positive direction. That, says Bodkin, is what he finds most rewarding.

“For the past 22 years this town has grown in the direction the townspeople wanted, for the least amount of cost, in the most efficient way possible,” Bodkin says. “I want to see the town continue to be a place people want to live.”

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