Marilyn Odendahl for www.theindianalawyer.com
The flags at the federal courthouses throughout the Southern District of Indiana are flying at half-staff Thursday in honor of Magistrate Judge Denise K. LaRue who died Wednesday. She was 59.
A native of Indianapolis and graduate of Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law, LaRue is being remembered for her sharp intellect and big heart. Colleagues and friends say she was organized, focused and knowledgeable, and also very kind and compassionate.
TaKeena Thompson, partner at Cohen & Malad LLP, called LaRue amazing. Thompson said LaRue was her mentor who always had time for brief chats and was always excited to hear about the work young lawyers were doing. Thompson admired her and learned how to be a lawyer by watching her.
“This is a big loss for the legal profession in Indianapolis,” Thompson said. “She was well-loved and will be missed.”
LaRue was appointed to the federal court on May 11, 2011, filling a new magistrate judgeship that had been created for the Southern District of Indiana by the Judicial Conference of the United States. She was the first African-American magistrate judge appointed to the Southern District.
She gained a reputation for bringing complex cases to settlement, working diligently with parties and attorneys to find a resolution acceptable to both side. Her demeanor both in chambers and on the bench has been described as calm, encouraging and fair. She addressed all who appeared before her with patience and equanimity.
“She was a master mediator and reconciler, bringing her keen intellect, emotional intelligence and powers of persuasion to bear on successfully settling hundreds of cases in our court,” said Chief Judge Jane E. Magnus-Stinson. “She was also our dear friend and trusted colleague and her loss to the members of the court is a permanent one.”
LaRue was a staff attorney at the Indiana Civil Rights Commission before entering private practice at the firm that became Haskin & LaRue LLP. She gained extensive experience litigating employment-related matters involving discrimination and retaliation claims under Title VII; the Americans with Disabilities Act; the Family & Medical Leave Act; and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.
John Maley, partner at Barnes & Thornburg LLP, knew LaRue for more than 20 years. He first encountered her as opposing counsel on some very challenging cases and then as a judge.
“She was extraordinary — smart, talented and dedicated, to be sure — but more importantly always genuine, sincere and simply one of the truly nice, good souls in our profession,” Maley said. “Through hard-fought cases as opposing counsel, and in difficult settlement conference as judge, she never raised her voice; never talked ill of counsel, parties or their positions.”
At the court, LaRue served on the Local Rules Advisory Committee and Pro Bono Committee. She was also a member of the Federal Magistrate Judges Association, 7th Circuit Bar Association and a Master with the Indianapolis American Inn of Court.
John Trimble, partner at Lewis Wagner LLP, was on the selection committee that included LaRue in the recommended candidates to be appointed magistrate judge. He said she stood out in the pool of 30 applicants, carrying with her a reputation for personal integrity and for taking a pragmatic approach to representing clients along with being very collegial.
On the bench, she was known as a hardworking, fair and respectful judge. She had the ability to connect with people and could often get the entrenched litigants to find common ground and resolve their disputes.
“Some people for whom being a lawyer or a judge is just a job and for others it’s a calling,” said Trimble. For her, it was a calling.”