A closer look at the people who solve other people’s problems
They’ve heard the jokes; they’ve heard the cliches.
And as much as they know people don’t really want to be in a position to hire them, sometimes you just need a good attorney.
In Fort Wayne, there is no shortage of smart and accomplished attorneys to choose from – they serve with integrity, with the best interests of their clients at heart and with the knowledge that they are brought in to solve problems. Often, the best time for an attorney to act is before that problem ever gets to a courtroom.
Fort Wayne Magazine is presenting its Top Lawyers issue as a tool to help people select an attorney if they should ever need one and also to highlight a few attorneys who’ve caught the eyes of their peers, who offer up fascinating stories and who just happen to be the ones you might call if you’re ever in a jam.
Judge Craig Bobay
He can tell you without batting an eye the year the Allen County Courthouse was opened – 1902 – what it cost – a little more than $800,000 – and that the county retired the bond which funded its construction in a “mortgage burning” celebration in 1940.
He can point out the art uncovered after paint was taken off parts of ceilings, which walls are real marble, and he loves the depiction of historical events that wrap around the top of Courtroom No. 3. Standing on the ground floor, he knows it’s 110 feet up to the top of the fabled rotunda – that you can see, at least.
There’s another 15 feet or so up to the Lady Liberty statue atop the dome of the courthouse.
“What you see is only about half of what there is to see,” said Allen Superior Judge Craig Bobay.
As with the courthouse, where the civil judge can be seen giving tours from time to time, Bobay knows the law inside and out – one of numerous reasons he was one of two in the state named Distinguished Barrister this year by Indiana Lawyer, a trade publication covering the legal profession.
Bobay began as a juvenile probation officer and then a court administrator before heading to law school. He became a magistrate in 1997 and has served on several state judicial committees through the years, including ones devoted to domestic relations, jury rules and problem solving.
His latest involvement is helping spearhead the creation of a Commercial Courts pilot program, designed to get cases involving businesses moving through the court system faster instead of laboring in legal limbo for years on end.
Allen County is one of six jurisdictions participating in the three-year program, which the Indiana Supreme Court pegged Bobay to help design.
“I’ve seen cases around for six or eight years, and it doesn’t do anybody any good to have them in there that long,” Bobay said. “Particularly business cases. I think these decisions should be made by business people, and I think it’s the court’s role to get them to the decision.”
Bobay added he finds satisfaction when both sides come to an amicable agreement or, even better, both sides leave happy. He’s known as being a big fan of performing weddings but has also had to oversee divorces.
The latter are, understandably, some of his least favorite.
“I’d say 50 percent of the people I’ve seen involved in divorce, two years later, wish they would’ve invested in saving the relationship,” Bobay said. “Some people think it’s the easy way out, but I think many wish they would’ve known what they were going to go through before deciding on it.”
When not in the courthouse, Bobay can be seen on the streets and trails of the city jogging with either a crew of others as they talk about their kids or by himself, meditating on what lies ahead. An avid runner, he’s participated in marathons through the years but now pretty much limits himself to half marathons.
Among his favorite places to run are through Lakeside and Foster parks, which give him a chance in the nice weather to, literally, smell the roses.
When your job requires you to be analytical the entire day or when you need to be constantly outthinking another person you’re required to view as an opponent due to the competitive nature of your gig, there’s nothing like that quick respite you can find in the hallways of your office.
That’s how Adam Bartrom found beef jerky.
Nearly every day right around 10 a.m., maybe 10:15 a.m. depending on how things are going, the lawyer with Barnes & Thornburg meets with colleague Jason Clagg and devours a bag of beef jerky. So far, they’ve found the simple Kroger brand of jerky is the king of dried meats.
“It’s become a staple,” said Bartrom, who added the 10-minute “sacred” conversation during that small break involves anything that’s not practice-related. “I think we’ve tried every single one. The Kroger one is the best.”
When Bartrom realized his dreams of being a Major League Baseball player were likely dashed – an 80-mile-per-hour fastball in high school will do that to you – he realized being a lawyer was the next best thing. His job in labor and employment law requires creativity and critical thinking all while still fanning his competitive flames.
Once he hit Notre Dame law school, a professor there told one of his classes that labor and employment law was the only area where an attorney had a chance of saying any of comedian George Carlin’s seven forbidden words for television to a federal judge without getting sanctioned.
He was definitely on board at that point.
“I’ve used a few,” he admitted. “But we’ll keep it clean for this interview.”
Bartrom has worked on many federal employment cases for his firm and has won summary judgment in many of them, spanning several jurisdictions. While competitive – growing up with brothers close in age will instill that in nearly anyone – he believes keeping his composure and finding the best resolution for a client are the best attributes for an attorney.
“I think some people can think in terms of yells and screams and pounds on the table,” Bartrom said. “Some people call it a ‘zealous advocacy.’ I think keeping cool serves much better strategically. You hopefully want to accomplish the end goal for your client.”
To sharpen and hone his skills as an attorney, the Bishop Dwenger grad took up writing a labor law blog for his firm as well as a column for Fort Wayne Business Weekly. While the firm’s blog focuses more on traditional and serious issues, his column can range the gamut – recently, he wrote about what penalties people might face if they play the uber-popular Pokemon Go on the job.
“I’m sure my high school English teacher would tell you I’m not a good writer. I have a transcript from Dwenger that proves that,” Bartrom joked. “When I went to St. Joseph College in Rensselaer, I learned to combine writing and critical thinking. I don’t claim to be the best writer, but it’s an effective means of communication to a larger group. I try to do it in a way so that it acts as a mechanism that puts out an issue that maybe employers don’t know about or are too embarrassed to ask about.
“You can’t really fake writing,” he added.
While he continued to practice law as well as write piece after piece for the web, Bartrom was also busy moving into new digs – his firm took its place in the new Ash Brokerage building downtown in mid-September. Since the trend in law is to almost go entirely digital, the firm donated most of its hard-copy law books to the Indiana Tech law school, Bartrom said.
But despite the new place – which is gorgeous – he’s still finding time for his beef jerky break. Or maybe afternoon golf putting in the hallways. Whatever gives that quick break from the labors of the day.
“We like to have fun,” he said.
If it wasn’t for a 10-hour calculus course during Mark Warsco’s freshman year of college, he might never have become an attorney.
The first of his family to graduate from high school, much less attend college, the eventual IPFW grad signed up for the course on a whim. He liked numbers. He liked problem solving. So what the heck? Calculus. Maybe he’d go on to do something in mathematics, he thought.
Then the hard truth from his professors: If he wanted to do something in math, he’d need to move on to Purdue University in West Lafayette, which was out of the question. So he switched to a political science major, where he noticed one more hard truth: Some of the grads a few years ahead of him were having trouble getting jobs.
His next step was law school, where he found his footing and his calling.
“I would like to tell you I knew from youth,” Warsco said. But he didn’t.
Like many attorneys, Warsco dabbled in several aspects of the legal profession after graduating from the Indiana University School of Law in Bloomington. He received a wide range of experience during his tenure at a small firm where he worked under several veteran attorneys who were willing to show him the ropes.
Whether the idea of working with numbers harkened back to his interest in calculus or whether it was the idea of sorting through a plethora of problems for solutions, Warsco ended up working in the commercial law field, focusing on bankruptcy, construction, commercial real estate and business representation.
Warsco works out of his firm, Rothberg, Logan and Warsco. According to his online biography, he represented numerous secured creditors in commercial loan workouts, primarily in the middle-market area between $2 million and $10 million. He’s also represented creditors’ committees in large, regional bankruptcy cases.
He downplays any of the large numbers.
His goal, he said, is to always work out some sort of settlement before anything reaches the courtroom or legal action. And to put forth his client’s position in a firm but respectful manner, avoiding theatrics when things might get heated.
An attorney’s reputation, integrity and attention to detail are what matters most.
“It’s not always the size of the case,” Warsco said.
His parents, Fred and Dorothy, moved him here when he was 4 years old. He graduated local — Northrop High School — and attended the local university, where he saved money for his eventual move to law school by living at home. “As long as I was going to school, my parents said I could live there,” he recalled.
Despite some possibilities elsewhere, he always wanted to come back and practice law here.
“Fort Wayne was always home,” he said.
J. Spencer Feighner
Some things just seem to run in the blood.
While J. Spencer Feighner didn’t think about becoming a lawyer until he was about three-fourths of the way through Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, the bug certainly caught him by the end.
Specializing in civil and commercial litigation, civil rights defense and appeals at Haller & Colvin, Feighner grew up in the firm’s hallways. Literally. One of his mentors is his father, John O. Feighner, an attorney at the same firm who from time to time took his kid to work on weekends when his office was in what is now the PNC Bank building downtown.
“I’m friends with a lot of kids of the other attorneys,” Feighner said. “I remember my dad’s drawer was always full of 30 flavors of gum.”
Now down the street at East Main and Clay streets, the younger Feighner came to the firm after graduating from Indiana University School of Law in Indianapolis.
He admits his fondness for arguing a point – he claims he’d be arguing with “someone somewhere” if it weren’t for his job – but said the prospect of being able to assist people looking for help is what drives him in his career.
Feighner called the depiction of lawyers on TV or in the movies as hard-nosed and constantly argumentative a misconception. He said nearly all lawyers are polite and have integrity – even when interactions become heated.
While he’s worked on plenty of injury and family law cases, the complexity of commercial law appealed to him due to there being many possible solutions to a problem, with the goal being to find the right solution for a particular client. “It’s great to help people who come to you with a problem and need to work out a solution,” Feighner said. “Some people are so thankful for the help you can give them, so relieved, and that’s a wonderful feeling knowing you’ve helped someone achieve a goal.”
In his spare time Feighner participates in CrossFit and cycles. Hitting the road on a bike – which he’s taken up more of since his fiance’s family owns a local bike shop – allows him to focus and decompress. Several times cases involving bike accidents have come across his desk, which helped him quickly prepare due to knowing bicycle law.
Super Lawyers, an online rating service of lawyers who have a high degree of peer recognition, recently named Feighner as a Rising Star. He’s also heavily involved with Canterbury School, serving as president of the Alumni Association. He credits Canterbury High School for making him a better student.
Still, there are times where he turns to the old man. The father who was always enthusiastic about being a lawyer, who is still readily available for advice – whether it be a legal case or a family matter.
No matter what.
“You couldn’t ask for a better mentor,” Feighner said.
First appeared in the November 2016 issue of Fort Wayne Magazine.