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James H. Voyles

Leaders in Litigation Recipient

PART 4 –James Voyles – The Fast Lane

Top defense attorney James H. Voyles has a high-octane career and a collection of cars to match.

Jim VoylesWhen Indiana’s most noteworthy citizens find themselves in possible trouble with the law, they call James H. Voyles. In 46 years of practice at Voyles Zahn & Paul, Voyles has successfully represented dozens of clients in both civil and criminal cases, and his client roster is distinctly A-list. Those who have sought his services over the years include boxer Mike Tyson, racecar driver Al Unser, Jr., media executive and racing team owner Jay Penske, former Indiana Pacers guards Stephen Jackson and Jamaal Tinsley, former Indiana University coach Bob Knight, and automotive safety expert Bill Simpson.

But ask him about the cases that mean the most to him, and not a single famous name passes his lips. In fact, he hardly mentions names at all, possibly because he’s so accustomed to keeping those lips zipped—the hallmark of a great defense attorney.

“I’ve always been able to stay above the fray pretty easily,” Voyles says. “I don’t talk to the media. I don’t get involved in that kind of stuff and I recommend to my clients that they don’t either. No good ever came from that.”

Instead, he lets his work do the talking for him—painstaking, time-consuming, highly focused work. That was the case in the 2010 murder trial of Daniel Tunks, which sent Voyles on the road for four months to New Jersey. (Unfortunately, Voyles says, extensive travel is par for the course for him.) Tunks, an Indiana native, stood accused of shooting his brother-in-law’s father to death for an insurance payout.

Tunks was a suspect because he’d met with the victim, William Marcucci, hours before his murder; he did so at the request of his brother-in-law and sometime employer, Bill Silvi—Marcucci’s son. Silvi had asked Tunks to drive halfway across the country from Colorado to New Jersey to deliver his father some personal things—he couldn’t do it himself, he said, because he’d be violating his parole. It was, as Tunks’ defense team argued, an elaborate setup from the beginning.

“It was the brother-in-law, Silvi, who set this up for insurance fraud, who had called all the insurance companies, taken out policies on his father and named himself the beneficiary,” Voyles says. Silvi had planned a hit on his father, and Tunks would be the last person to see him alive. The setup worked brilliantly—despite the fact there was no murder weapon and no physical evidence connecting him to the crime, Tunks was arrested.

Voyles, who was recommended to Tunks’ stepmother by an old friend and former prosecutor, first met his client in jail. “Danny seemed like a decent Hoosier guy,” he says. “A well-spoken, polite young man. Everything he told us about the case just seemed believable.”

What ultimately convinced him of Tunks’ innocence? “The jury,” Voyles laughs. (Spoken like a true defense attorney.)

The case was not an easy one to try; Voyles spent a slow four months going through 10,000 cell-phone records and filling 26 trial notebooks with information. It was the longest case he’d ever been involved in. Voyles flew home to Indiana on Friday nights, handled his other work on Saturdays, and flew back to Newark Sunday evenings. “I like to spend a lot of time getting all the pieces together so that everything comes together in the courtroom,” he says. “You can’t be very good in the courtroom unless you’ve done your homework.”

Local counsel Patrick J. Jennings represented Tunks along with Voyles. “Jim is the finest attorney with whom I’ve ever worked,” Jennings says. “All elite trial lawyers are hard-working, have a keen intellect, and possess an acute knowledge of the law. That’s a given and it certainly applies to Jim. But what sets Jim apart are his qualities as a human being: his humility, his selflessness, his compassion, and his dedication to his cause.”

Voyles combed through his mountain of evidence and used the pieces to chip away at the prosecution’s case against Tunks, bringing the crooked dealings of Silvi more and more into focus as the trial progressed. But Voyles needed a smoking gun, or as close to one as he could manage, and so he persisted until just the right detail came to light: it was buried in the autopsy report, which outlined the stomach contents of the deceased.

“We had the victim’s dinner ticket—we knew exactly what he ate and when he ate it,” Voyles said. “So I consulted with a friend of mine, Dr. John Pless, who was the former head of the forensic pathology department at Indiana University, and we traced the entire digestive process.” Voyles cross-examined the state’s pathologist about the state of the stomach contents when she found them and how long it took for them to get that way. Turns out, Marcucci was still very much alive and digesting his dinner at the time the state maintained he’d been killed—and when cell phone records showed Tunks was already making his way back west on the interstate. It all came down, Voyles said, to what was left of a simple baked potato and a piece of chicken.

Would the jury buy it? Voyles says he didn’t have a gut feeling about the outcome. Seven days into deliberation, when the jury filed back into the courtroom with a decision in hand, was when he first felt a hint of relief. “The jury wasn’t afraid to look at Danny,” he says, “and that was a good sign. Sometimes jurors won’t look at you when they come back if the verdict goes against your client.” The jury acquitted Tunks of all charges. And Voyles was thrilled.

“I thought Danny really deserved to be acquitted,” Voyles says. “Like most lawyers who try criminal cases and have a client they feel is innocent, when you’re fortunate enough to get a jury to agree with you, it’s a very gratifying feeling. It made a big impact on me.”

Voyles, the nephew of prominent defense attorney George Ober, went to law school at the urging of his father, a World War II veteran who had cut his own law school stint short to rejoin the U.S. Army. Voyles was actually interested in pursuing personal injury work, but wound up playing defense instead because he was invited to join his uncle’s firm, Symmes, Fleming, Ober & Symmes (which has since evolved into Voyles Zahn & Paul). “They were premier defense lawyers,” Voyles says, “with an excellent reputation for criminal trial work.” (An understatement, perhaps. For example, the firm represented Connie Nicholas, who killed her lover, Eli Lilly executive Forrest Teel, in one of the most salacious cases of the 1960s. Nicholas served only two years for manslaughter despite the fact that she lay in wait for Teel outside his new girlfriend’s apartment and shot him three times.)[1]

Switching his perspective to the defense wasn’t difficult for Voyles. “Good lawyers can try either side of a case,” he says, and that’s regardless of a client’s innocence or guilt.

“There’s an oath we take when we become lawyers to represent our clients to the best of our abilities,” he says. “When someone is brought into an emergency room and a doctor is preparing to operate, even if that person has done something terrible—shot a policeman, say—you don’t hear the doctors saying, ‘You know, I don’t think I can do this today.’ They jump right in. They do everything they can to save both people. It’s the same with lawyers.”

Although he’s rarely outside the office, Voyles does manage to carve out some time for a life beyond the courtroom. For one thing, he has a well-documented passion for all things auto-related. “I’m a car addict,” he says.

Voyles grew up fixing up cars as a teenager, but developed a keen interest in auto racing thanks to Ober, who was an attorney for the United States Auto Club. “I’ve seen every Indy 500 but one since 1953,” he says. He even eventually married the daughter of Indy 500 champ Johnnie Parsons; Voyles and his wife Joan have six children and 21 grandchildren—and 16 cars in the garage, which Voyles lovingly details himself whenever he has the time. They include a 1958 Bentley, a 355 F1 Spider Ferrari, a 1956 Jaguar XK140, a couple of classic hot rods, and his most recent acquisition, a GT Bentley coupe.

Waxing a car, of course, is an effective way to process excess energy from trial—and so is indulging a lead foot. Voyles takes his prized cars out as often as he can, for work, social engagements, or some seriously fast driving. And, just as a proud parent might, he claims he doesn’t prefer one model over another. “My favorite is whichever one I happen to be driving,” he says diplomatically.

“My only quarrel with Jim,” Jennings says, “is that I can’t get him to come up to my house in Saratoga Springs to watch the thoroughbred horse races—because he’s so tied to his cars.”

The self-professed speed demon doesn’t see himself slowing down anytime soon. At age 71, does Voyles plan to keep working forever? “Absolutely,” he says. “As long as people still call.”

Leaders in Litigation is an advertorial series created by WKW to feature some of Indiana’s most interesting and accomplished lawyers. We hope you enjoy learning more about these fascinating lawyers as we did interviewing them.

Would you like to nominate someone for Leaders in Litigation? Email your nomination to LeadersInLitigation@wkw.com.

[1] http://archive.indystar.com/article/99999999/NEWS06/307310028/1958-case-scorned-mistress-ends-murder; http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1755&dat=19620405&id=-rceAAAAIBAJ&sjid=RmUEAAAAIBAJ&pg=7244,1108500;

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