By Marilyn Odendahl
At the dinner commemorating the 66th annual meeting of the 7th Circuit Bar Association, Holocaust survivor Eva Mozes Kor asked the federal judges and attorneys to help heal the victims who come into their courts.
Kor was scheduled to be a keynote speaker at the Monday evening program but a sudden health problem sent her to the hospital instead of the JW Marriott in Indianapolis. However, she videotaped her remarks from her hospital bed, delighting the crowd of legal professionals with her humor and heartfelt message.
“Attorneys and judges are guardians of the law,” said Kor, who was sent to Auschwitz with her family as a young girl of 10. “Every society is only as good as its laws and its guardians.”
The dinner capped a long day of plenary sessions and shorter breakout discussions as part of the annual meeting. Many of the attendees stayed for the evening event, which included the presentation of awards, recognizing service to the courts and the profession, as well as speeches by former Indiana Supreme Court justice and Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law professor Frank Sullivan and U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Elena Kagan.
Sullivan was given with the American Inns of Court Professionalism Award. He said he was honored to be recognized by the 7th Circuit and its judges whose independence, impartiality and fairness he deeply admires.
Also recognized with awards were:
• American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana for outstanding public service work in the 7th Circuit;
• Brian Paul of Faegre Baker Daniels LLP for outstanding pro bono work in the 7th Circuit;
• Christopher Cody of Hume Smith Geddes Green & Simmons LLP, John Maley of Barnes & Thornburg LLP, and Kerry Connor, solo practitioner in Highland for outstanding pro bono work in the U.S. District Courts of Indiana;
• Volunteer Lawyer Program of Northeast Indiana for outstanding public service work in the U.S. Bankruptcy Courts of Indiana.
Kagan talked about the prolonged vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court created by the unexpected death of Antonin Scalia in February 2016, which was filled until 10th Circuit Judge Neil Gorsuch was confirmed last month. She credited Chief Justice John Roberts with getting the other justices to continue talking, listening and looking for common ground so they could render a decision.
Noting the issues that are dividing the citizenry and the political institutions, Kagan felt the Supreme Court presented an example to follow.
“I think courts do model behavior,” she said. “They teach people about reasoned decision-making and they teach people about collegiality. And when they’re working at their best, they also teach people about bridging differences and reaching agreement in places where you might not expect to find it.”
Kor told the judges, attorneys and court staff that laws address the perpetrators but do nothing to take care of the victims’ pain. Telling her own story of being subjected to medical experiments in the concentration camp, she said she was able to heal her soul and overcome the heartbreak of her past when, in the 1990s, she met one of the Nazi doctors and then wrote him a letter of forgiveness.
Founding CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center, Kor has also worked as an advocate for forgiveness.
“I don’t believe that justice has healed one single victim or their suffering,” Kor said. “By neglecting the victims, they cannot reach their full potential of leading productive lives.”
She recommended the 7th Circuit begin a victim advocacy program that will teach individuals how to forgive. Suggesting the courts begin with a workshop on forgiveness, Kor said the judiciary could plant the seeds in the minds of the victims.
“Our judicial system, I hope, can create a way to help victims heal themselves because every person deserves to live free and be happy,” Kor said. “…By helping to heal the individuals, we can help to heal our communities, our nation and the world.”