Forty years ago, Bruce Carter Embrey took a job that would propel him to arguably one of the most imposing judicial careers in Indiana.
One might think that Embrey, 70, would want to slow down now, but the fire in his belly — which almost didn’t get lit — still burns.
He will seek a second term as Miami County prosecutor.
“Law provides interesting, ever-changing work that directly benefits people, and I have a strong people-orientation,” Embrey replied.
Embrey had to take detours to law school. And he got to Peru only after getting directions from a highly respected lawmaker.
Born in Riverdale, Md., Embrey lived there and in Virginia until he was 4 years old. His father, Chester T. Embrey, worked for the Federal Aviation Administration.
After Embrey’s parents were divorced, he and his mother, Hazel, moved to Winchester, Ky. When he was 10, his mother married Gene Cook, an auditor for Phillips Petroleum Co., and the family moved to Indianapolis. He eventually would gain a half-sister, Patricia, and a half-brother, Doug.
As a youngster, Embrey was interested in the law, but his mother told him the family could not afford law school. She advised him to be an engineer.
“Bear in mind,” Embrey pointed out, “this was the late ’50’s, when Sputnik was a household word and engineers were in vogue.”
Embrey forgot about law, and after graduating from Warren Central High School in 1961, he enrolled at Hanover College. He lasted a year.
“Dropped out and entered the Navy,” Embrey recalled.
Discharged three years later, he went to work for Indiana Bell, selling Yellow Page advertising.
Then a major turning point occurred.
At a luncheon in Marion, he met Cheryl Pierce. He offered her a ride back to work. She refused. But some six months later, one of Cheryl’s girlfriends in Indianapolis told Bruce that she — Cheryl’s girlfriend — wanted Bruce to meet someone who had just moved to Indianapolis. It was Cheryl.
“Must have been fate!” Embrey says.
Bruce and Cheryl got married July 20, 1968, in Indianapolis.
Then another major turning point occurred.
“I used a lawyer for a real estate transaction and quizzed him about law school,” Embrey recalled. “He encouraged me. I finally decided to go back to school and qualify for law school.”
A tough grind lay ahead. He worked full time at different jobs and went to school full time at IUPUI.
“Cheryl was pregnant, so full-time employment was necessary,” Embrey said.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in business in 1972 and entered the IU law school.
Then another major turning point occurred.
In January 1974, while in law school, he got a staff job with the Judicial Study Commission, which deals with legislation involving the judiciary system.
That’s when he met Mexico’s Kermit Burrous, a prominent member of the Indiana House of Representatives. Burrous steered him to Peru.
Embrey got his law degree in May 1976 and moved to Peru in June. He filed for judge of the County Court, served as probate commissioner for Circuit Court and practiced privately out of Jim Volpert’s office.
Embrey won. A tremendous career was born.
In 1977, he became the first judge of the new Superior Court after County Court was converted. Embrey won re-election twice over the next 10 years.
In 1986, having had his fill of small claims and traffic cases, Embrey ran for Circuit Court judge and triumphed again. He won two more six-year terms before retiring in November 2002, after four years, and became a senior judge for the next eight years.
In all, Embrey was a judge for 26 years, during which he was heavily involved in judicial reform efforts, such as:
• Development of the Indiana Child Support Guidelines, in which he authored the first four editions of its official commentary.
• The Judicial Weighted Caseload Study.
• The use of judicial districts for certain purposes.
• The use of electronics in the judiciary.
• The removal of juveniles from county jails and into separate juvenile facilities.
• The development and implementation of the Court Appointed Special Advocate Program statewide.
In 1998 and 1999, Embrey was part of a five-person team that attended the Leadership Training for Judicial Educators at the University of Memphis for a week each year. There were 48 attendees from around the country.
After his judge days, Embrey served as Peru city attorney and worked in private practice before running for prosecutor.
“Mayor [Jim] Walker suggested it,” Embrey said. “It sounded like an interesting way to end my career.”
Embrey inherited two cases he described as being difficult. One was a reckless homicide involving the accidental shooting of a young man by a friend.
“The maximum penalty is eight years, and the family of the decedent were incredulous that the life of their son was worth so little in the eyes of the law,” Embrey said.
The other difficult case was a charge of child neglect resulting from an infant being hit in the head with a pipe while his parents were arguing. “They had shot up meth the night before,” Embrey said.
Embrey’s office won convictions in both cases.
In a murder case filed while in office, Embrey got a “guilty but mentally ill” verdict in November. The case received widespread publicity. A young man was tried for attacking and killing a Scout leader with a knife on the trail in Bunker Hill. He was sentenced in December to 45 years.
Asked what his greatest challenges are as a prosecutor, Embrey responded:
“The volume of business is a stressor at times. There are months where things are smooth and not too terribly busy, then the sky falls. At the end of the year we were swamped with trials and drug cases, mostly methamphetamine cases.” (Last month his office won guilty verdicts on all counts in a three-day Class B felony meth jury trial.)
Budget constraints mean meager resources, Embrey says. “Our officers do not have dash cams, which would help a great deal in many cases. We lack some of the cutting edge technological tools that make investigating much easier and productive. …
“The volume of cases in the courts is astounding, expensive and hard to understand. All of us in the system ask why. Drug cases in particular are overwhelming at times. We had the seventh highest number of meth labs busted in Indiana in 2012, and Indiana was third highest in the nation. It is even higher this year.”
Because of the increasing number of arrests and the expansion of jails and prisons, he says, there is a trend among lawmakers toward minimizing the offenses that are filling prisons.
“I think in the next year there will be a new criminal code that greatly reduces drug penalties and penalties for non-violent crimes,” Embrey says. “Reducing, or eliminating, criminal sanctions for marijuana is an ongoing theme. While we do spend far too many resources pursuing marijuana, I still believe it to be a gateway drug in most small counties.”
Over four decades, Embrey has received numerous honors. Here are just three: the Robert J. Kinsey Award from the Juvenile Justice Task Force in 1985; a Sagamore of the Wabash Award from Gov. Orr in 1985, and the Peru Tribune’s Citizen of the Year for 1983.
Outside the courtroom, Embrey has been a well-known ringmaster for the Peru Circus since 1981 — thanks to his daughter, Shannon.
In 1981, when she was 7, she wanted to perform, so Embrey volunteered. Aside from being a ringmaster, he has served in several capacities, including president of the board.
The circus is one of several civic activities in which Embrey has been involved. He’s fulfilled roles with the United Way, Red Cross, YMCA and Leadership Miami County. He helped found and develop TEAM, a Miami County Youth Leadership Academy. He was also a founder of the International Circus Hall of Fame.
Along with Shannon, he and Cheryl, who managed two apartment complexes for 27 years, have two other children. Brent, 44, practices law in Fishers with Embrey’s half-brother, Doug. Reid, 38, has a master’s degree in architecture and lives in Los Angeles, working on entertainment projects. Shannon, 40, resides in Denver and is an RN at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Kokomo. The Embreys have four grandchildren and one step-grandchild.
Bruce and Cheryl have long been active in the Presbyterian Church; he’s an elder, Cheryl is a deacon. “I immediately began singing in the choir, at the insistence of [former Nixon Newspapers Inc. CEO] John Nixon,” Bruce said. “I also enjoy in-depth Bible study classes.”
For relaxation, the Embreys golf together and enjoy traveling.
Embrey, an early American history buff, likes to read, but says he can never find enough time to do as much as he would like.
“I try to stay fit and try to walk the Indy Mini-Marathon each year,” Embrey said. “Most of our walking around here is with our two dogs, a husky and a golden retriever.”
Now he’s going to be running, too.
Ray Moscowitz of Bloomington is a retired newspaper executive and former publisher of the Peru Tribune. Contact him at email@example.com.