Jim Amidon — Wabash alumnus Tim Oakes ’86 has dreamed of becoming a judge for as long as I can remember — and I’ve known him for more than 25 years.
His dream became reality — officially — on Monday when Oakes was sworn in as Marion County Superior Court Judge at a ceremony held in the Indiana Supreme Court Courtroom attended by hundreds of Tim’s family members, colleagues, and friends.
It was standing-room-only in the courtroom, while others stood in the doorway as Oakes was sworn in.
Why such a big deal?
Because Oakes so badly wanted a post like this and worked so hard to achieve it. Mostly, though, it was hard work and perseverance that led Oakes to the bench.
To understand why I felt so much pride for Oakes on Monday, you have to understand the person and just how far he’s come. If ever there was a “classic Wabash success story,” put a gold star by this one. But it didn’t come easy.
Oakes was a long-shot for career success as a teenager attending Arsenal Tech High School on Indianapolis’ near eastside. His family didn’t have any money and there were few if any intellectual role models for him.
Even when he graduated third in his class of over 600 students, Oakes had trouble finding a job. Eventually a friend gave him a chance — to wash dishes — and he learned about work ethic. And thanks to the kindness of teachers, friends, and family, he would matriculate to Wabash College and even study at Oxford University (helped in large measure by “Dean Moore loans”).
Tim has attracted people who believe in him throughout his life, and unlike most people I know, he has always made the most of every opportunity.
After graduating from Wabash, he became a Governor’s Fellow for then-Indiana Governor Robert Orr, who found something special in the tall, gangly Wabash political science major. After the yearlong internship, Oakes was hired by Governor Orr to serve as his scheduler, a position that put Oakes into contact with Indiana’s most important and influential people.
Oakes attended law school — at night — and earned his law degree in 1991. For eight years, he practiced in the areas of criminal defense, family law, government affairs, and probate. He was also a part-time public defender with Marion and Shelby counties.
Not only did he serve on Governor Orr’s staff, he also worked with Indianapolis Mayors Bill Hudnut and Steve Goldsmith (Wabash ’68).
He also worked with the Indiana House of Representatives and the Republican Caucus as contract legal counsel from 2001-2004. It was then that he left private practice to become vice president and general counsel for the Indiana Cable Telecommunications Association.
The son of working class parents had little trouble moving in any circles, from Indiana’s elite politicians to the most troubled of the state’s citizens. That’s why I think he’ll make a terrific judge.
So Oakes didn’t want the Investiture Ceremony to be about him; it was to be for all the people who helped him realize his dreams.
“I am proud and privileged to serve, but this is really your day… Today is all about my teachers,” Oakes said as he introduced two of his IPS grade school teachers who were on hand, as well as his friends and professional colleagues.
“Today is for my grade school and high school friends… I know where you came from and I am proud of you.”
He also singled out the late Bill Placher, Wabash’s LaFollette Distinguished Professor in the Humanities who died November 30.
“Today is about Bill Placher, my college professor and religious advisor,” Oakes said with tears in his eyes. “He welcomed so many young men to college. He brought them through and turned them out as good men. Today is his day.”
It really was a ceremony all about Oakes’ friends and family — those who believed in a young man from a rough neighborhood, but with a sharp mind, quick wit, and strong work ethic.
Mark Massa, who serves as general counsel for Governor Mitch Daniels, was master of ceremonies as Oakes took the oath of office. Oakes’ long-time friend, Devin Anderson, also gave remarks. Both men referenced their pride in Oakes’ path to get to the bench, and the promise he holds as a judge.
The Honorable Cale J. Bradford, Indiana Court of Appeals Judge, gave Oakes the oath of office, but first offered a few comments about his friend.
“Serving the bench requires patience, kindness, and common sense, and Tim has all of those qualities,” said Judge Bradford.
“He’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever met.”
As I left the courtroom after the ceremony, Judge Bradford’s comments echoed in my mind. He got it right when he referred to Oakes as patient, kind, smart, and full of common sense. But I’d also add that he’s one of the hardest-working friends I’ll ever have.
Congratulations, Judge Oakes.
Photos: Top — Oakes thanks his family and friends who were on hand for his Investiture Ceremony. Bottom — Oakes is congratulated by Wabash senior Brent Kent.