They’ve got to be smiling up there – Russel Wildman, Charles Edwards and Robert Spahr.
Each man is part of the legal fabric of Miami County’s newest jurist, Circuit Court Judge Tim Spahr.
He’s just 40, but Spahr has accumulated a massive amount of life experience – the kind of right stuff that’s essential in making rulings that have potential societal ramifications.
“The toughest part of being a judge,” Spahr responds when asked, “is that I spend a lot of time outside of work mulling over cases, mentally ‘chewing’ on them as I sort out how best to resolve them.”
“Mentally chewing” is nothing new to him. As an attorney, he said, “I always used to spend a lot of time worrying about my clients’ situations and trying to decide how best I could help them. It probably is just part of my personality to always be actively thinking about work, even outside normal work hours.”
That happens to people with a powerful work ethic and the character they develop while growing up. Spahr’s first job was working for Walsh’s Relay in Peru, driving all night around north-central Indiana to deliver newspapers in bulk quantities. “It was an adventure,” he says.
Now he’s on a vastly different adventure, occupying the circuit court seat his father, Robert, 66, held before dying in September 2012 of cancer only a month after being diagnosed. Like his father, Tim was appointed by Gov. Mitch Daniels.
His mother, Nancy, a noted early childhood music instructor and piano teacher, still teaches childhood music classes and piano to many students, including Spahr’s two children.
“My mother has taught me the value of discipline and hard work,” Spahr says. “She instilled in me a love for music that I will carry for the rest of my life.”
Like his siblings, Spahr, the oldest, was taught by his father to set goals and go after them. His sisters, Kim and Emily, live in Chicago, where Kim, who has a master’s degree in psychology, works in a hospital, and Emily is a pharmacy tech. Tony practices law in Peru.
“He was passionate about everything he did,” Spahr says about his father. “He always had goals and plans and worked hard in order to bring them to fruition. He strongly believed that, given enough desire and willpower, a person can accomplish a lot.”
Spahr has done just that. He is one of those “into everything” kind of people, piling up school and civic activities like Dagwood Bumstead making a sandwich.
In high school, he was a member of the French Club (which came in handy; stay tuned), participated in the Academic Super Bowl as a member of the Math, Fine Arts and All-Around Teams, and competed in the Spell Bowl. The rangy, 6-1, 190-pound Spahr also played tennis.
There’s more. An accomplished celloist, Spahr was a member of the Kokomo Youth Symphony Orchestra, a Kokomo youth chamber ensemble, the Kokomo Symphony Orchestra, the Manchester Symphony Orchestra and the Indiana All-State Honors Orchestra.
Little wonder, then, he was chosen to represent PHS at Boys State and selected as one of 100 Indiana students to attend the Indiana Governor’s Scholar Academy, a three-week summer program that became the Indiana Academy in Muncie.
After graduating from PHS in 1991, Spahr got a bachelor’s degree in 1994 at IU in music and history. Three years later, he earned his J.D. at IU.
As an undergraduate, he served on his dorm’s Judicial Board for one year and as a Residence Hall Ambassador for several. He was active in Alpha Phi Omega, a co-ed service organization. And, as a music major, he played the cello in numerous orchestras on campus. He also played intramural softball and basketball.
While attending law school, he was a staff member of the Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies and Delta Theta Phi, a co-ed law-oriented fraternity. (Now he’s a member of the Miami County, Indiana State and American Bar associations, plus the Indiana Judges Association.)
His list of civic activities is just as deep: President of the Miami County Child Abuse Prevention Council; president of the Board of Directors of the Miami County Chapter of the American Red Cross; Peru Rotary Club for the last 10 years, including one as president; member of the Miami County Community Corrections Advisory Board.
With that kind of background, his work in the trenches, and a loss in 2004 to incumbent Circuit Court Judge Rosemary Higgins Burke, Spahr was ready for the Circuit Court opening that occurred after his father’s death.
Burke had been appointed to fill the position after Bruce Embrey retired before the end of his fifth term. Burke, who had switched from being a Democrat, defeated Wil Siders in the 2004 Republican primary for re-election. Spahr, a Republican, ran as an independent and got 44.4 percent of the vote, despite not garnering votes from anyone who voted a straight party ticket.
When Burke resigned in 2007, both Tim and his father applied for the opening. Gov. Mitch Daniels appointed Robert, which, Tim says, “was a very good thing. I am very glad that Dad got to have the opportunity to be a judge. I just wish he could have served in that capacity and been with us longer.”
Understandably, when Spahr became judge, he had a firm grasp of the ins and outs.
Asked how many hours he works a week – presiding, researching rulings, writing decisions and instructions – Spahr responds:
“My work hours can vary quite widely. In a relatively quiet week, I may only work 40 hours. During the week before – or the week of — a jury trial, I very easily can find myself working over 80 hours.
“Members of the custodial staff at the courthouse see me working during the off hours and sometimes ask how long I will be sticking around and working on a given evening or weekend.”
The most important thing he’s learned as a judge, he said, is the need for a lot patience. “[You need] a willingness to listen carefully and think hard about the issues from multiple angles and have the courage to make decisions based upon the facts and law, decisions that often are not easy ones.”
Spahr was destined to do that.
In the eighth grade, he completed a questionnaire that was intended to suggest what careers might be appropriate to students based on their interests and personalities.
Not surprisingly, the results suggested attorney would be a good choice.
“Since my father did that,” Spahr said, “I knew what being an attorney entailed. I never waivered in my professional goals after that.”
When he was growing up, he said, one of his heroes was his great-grandfather, Russel Wildman.
“He was a farm boy who grew up near Deedsville and then practiced law in Peru for about 60 years before he died in 1978,” Spahr said. “[He] was a very, very successful attorney and was well-respected for his skills as a trial attorney throughout northern Indiana.”
In law school, Spahr was hired as a clerk by the late Charles Edwards, a solo practitioner in Spencer. Spahr was paired with him through a mentoring program for first-year law students.
That connection was “one of those funny little twists of fate,” Spahr said. “My grandfather, an obstetrician who had practiced medicine for many years in Indianapolis, had delivered all three of his children! … After my father, Mr. Edwards was the most significant mentor to me in regard to the legal profession.”
Summer 1997 was a momentous time for Spahr: He took the Bar Exam, got married, moved back to Peru and began working as a law clerk for his father until he received notice that he had passed the exam.
He opened an office in the same building as his father, but worked independently for 15 years, dealing with a wide range of law — adoptions, business entity (corporations, LLCs, LLPs), collections, contracts, criminal, estate planning, family (divorce, paternity, child custody, child support), municipal, personal injury and real estate.
“It was an excellent way to prepare for my current job,” he notes.
After his father became circuit court judge, Spahr occupied the building alone for 18 months, until his brother Tony moved in to maintain a separate practice.
Spahr’s membership in the PHS French Club, along with his musical talent, paid off in meeting and connecting with his wife, Marcet, at IU. She teaches French at Maconaquah High School. Her IU roommate was a violinist whom Spahr knew through the School of Music.
The Spahrs, who have been married 16 years, have two children, Anastasia, 11, and John, 7. They are members of Main Street Methodist Church.
Despite his professional and family obligations, Spahr finds time to read, play the cello, go biking and occasionally participate in sports with friends.
It’s a full life, one, he says, he hopes to have the rest of his legal career.
“While I greatly enjoyed helping people during my years as an attorney,” he said, “I have enjoyed being a judge even more.”