Roger Pardieck

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Leaders in Litigation Recipient: The Accidental Attorney

Roger PardieckOver his 51-year career, Roger Pardieck has become one of the preeminent trial lawyers in the United States. He’s been named Trial Lawyer of the Year twice by the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association, was inducted into Indiana University’s Academy of Law Alumni Fellows (the law school’s highest honor), and was the first Indiana lawyer named to the Inner Circle of Advocates, an invitation-only group that recognizes 100 of the best plaintiffs’ attorneys in the nation.

That’s quite a pile of laurels for someone who wasn’t all that interested in being a trial lawyer in the first place.

Pardieck, who speaks with a wry and self-deprecating sense of humor, claims he didn’t really catch the law bug until he landed in the classroom of Indiana University professor Ralph Fuchs, who taught antitrust law. “Dr. Fuchs was just absolutely wonderful,” Pardieck says. “I really enjoyed working with him. So I intended to either go into antitrust law or work at the FTC. I wrote my senior research on section 2B of the Robinson-Patman Act, which of course no one cares anything about.”

Pardieck graduated from IU School of Law and was finishing a master’s in business economics when his phone rang one day. It was the circuit court judge in his hometown of Seymour, asking if Pardieck would be interested in serving as special prosecuting attorney.

“I told him no,” Pardieck says. “I was planning on going in another direction—I didn’t have any interest in that.”

But the judge was persistent. He called again six months later and told Pardieck that the elected prosecutor had been held incapable of performing his duties both in and out of court, and cases were backing up. Would Pardieck consider handling the cases part-time, driving back and forth from Bloomington?

“I agreed,” Pardieck says, “not realizing I was totally incompetent to do that job.”

His first trial, an involuntary manslaughter case, began two weeks after he was sworn in. “The jury was out 20 minutes,” he says. “I think it was because one of the jurors had to finish his cigar. They came back in and acquitted the guy.”

An inauspicious beginning, maybe, but once Pardieck got warmed up, things began to go his way. Another two weeks, another trial—and this time a conviction for burglary (although, unfortunately, the defendant was an old acquaintance from junior league baseball). Pardieck was learning his way around the courtroom—“at the expense of the taxpayers,” he jokes—and acquiring a taste for trial. After blazing through 17 jury trials in 15 months, he was smitten.

“I forgot all about doing anything else,” he says, “and decided I wanted to be a trial lawyer.”

A Daughter’s Perspective

Roger’s daughter Amy and her siblings grew up in the small community of Seymour, where Roger started his own personal injury firm in 1964 and where he still practices and lives with his wife, Mary Ann. “There were often experts, witnesses, and clients around our dinner table,” Amy says. “I grew up in the courtroom, basically, and I loved it. You can’t help but love it when you see the good that it does.”

Amy got her college degree in psychology and became a family therapist, but the courtroom eventually called her back home. She now puts her psychology background to work as a trial consultant, traveling the country preparing witnesses and conducting focus groups for dozens of attorneys, including her father.  And while Roger Pardieck may be her dad, she has a professional perspective on working with him to prepare cases.

“He’s smart, he’s quick on his feet, and he’s as cool as a cucumber,” she says. “It’s amazing. I’ve watched him get hammered by defense counsel, but he doesn’t waver. He just stays the course.”

But she thinks his success owes to something more than that. “He’s authentic—he’s the same person in the courtroom as he is at home playing with his grandkids,” she says. “He cares about people enormously, and he works to help his clients not only legally but on a personal level. That really huge heart of his goes out to the judge and the jurors, too: He really cares that they get the information they need, and he goes above and beyond what the law requires to provide them with the whole story, the real story—not just the legal story but the human story.”

Doing the Legwork

Getting the whole story isn’t always straightforward. It can take years, in fact. But Pardieck’s career has been defined by cases that required not just time on task, but also painstaking research and creative thinking to arrive at the truth. One client was a 13-year-old boy who was struck by a truck while driving his bicycle on the highway. As Pardieck interviewed the driver, he noted a conflict in the evidence: The driver insisted he hadn’t seen the boy, that he shot out in front of the truck, while another witness claimed the boy had been riding along the right-hand side of the road for some time.

“The driver was a sincere man trying to tell the truth,” Pardieck says. “So we looked for the reason he was unable to see the bicycle.

On a hunch, Pardieck took the bicycle to Professor Merrill Allen at the IU School of Optometry. Pardieck and Allen conducted an experiment by mounting the bicycle’s reflector on a bracket, putting it in a dark room, and shining light on it while viewing it from different angles. For the reflector to glow red, the observer’s eye had to be directly behind it; otherwise, all you’d see was a pale amber.

“What we were seeing was the effect of a very narrow angle of return of light on this little reflector that was on the back of all bicycles at the time,” Pardieck says. “Our thesis was that the reflectors were defective for nighttime riding—even though the only time you need one is at night. An overtaking vehicle with headlights on low beams wasn’t going to pick that up.”

The manufacturer was no longer in business, but Pardieck sued the seller of the bicycle, G.C. Murphy & Co., and got a settlement for his client, whose family had to care for him around the clock (he died 31 years later at age 44, still in a vegetative state). And the outcome, Pardieck says, spurred a change in the cycling industry, as new reflectors came on the market with wide-angle lenses that are easily seen by approaching drivers.

“This boy’s family were very remarkable people,” Pardieck says, “so that case was important to me. . . . I have to think that we won’t always make a great change in any given corporation, but that every little bit helps. If someone is held responsible for their conduct, there’s a public good that comes out of that.”

Major Milestone

Pardieck has secured multiple multimillion-dollar settlements and verdicts, but the largest of his career came in 2010, when a jury found in favor of his clients Todd and Cynthia Ebling. The Eblings were living in an apartment complex in New Albany in 1994 when their two young children, A.J. and Christina, began suffering from seizures and other health symptoms.

“The Eblings didn’t realize something was wrong at first,” Pardieck says. “Some of the symptoms the kids were experiencing mimicked colds and flu, typical childhood illnesses. But they were actually reacting to exposure to pesticides.”

The Eblings didn’t know it, but the apartments were being routinely and indiscriminately sprayed with pesticide by untrained staff the entire time they lived there. Two years after they moved away, tests still found traces of the pesticides Dursban and Creal-O on the children’s clothes and toys. The Eblings filed suit, although the diagnosis of pesticide poisoning came too late for their children: Both suffered brain damage and respiratory disorders from which they will never fully recover.

Fourteen long years later (after multiple appeals and after claims of other defendants had been resolved), a jury put a price tag on their suffering: $23.5 million, payable to the Eblings by the apartment complex and its management company.

“I worked on the Ebling case,” Amy Pardieck says, “and my dad left no stone unturned. He was completely convinced that his clients were right in every way: legally and morally and factually. From the bottom of his heart, he was determined to connect all the dots and put it together—and that case was a marathon. It carried on for years. But he was able to communicate that conviction through his witnesses, through Todd and Cindy, and the jury got it.”

Todd Ebling credits Roger Pardieck with doing an incredible amount of work to build the case. “We had pieced together some events in the timeline ourselves, laying the first bricks in the foundation,” he says, “but then Roger took it and ran with it, digging further and deeper to make our case. And while we were dealing with the stress of our kids’ medical issues, he was handling the legal side of things so we didn’t have to worry about that at all. We were kind of like family to each other—we’re very glad he was on our side.”

It’s clear that for Pardieck, the most significant part of his work is his relationships with the Eblings and the other families he’s represented over the years. They help him just as much as he helps them, he says. “You get discouraged sometimes when things get tough, and you see your clients and you’re reminded that their needs aren’t going away.

“But they’re always there, providing encouragement and motivation and friendship—and strawberries,” he laughs. “That’s one of the advantages of being in a small rural community, you know. You get fruits and vegetables.”

Amy backs him up—by fall, she says, the pumpkins start rolling in from clients who just want to express their appreciation. “People know how much he cares about them,” she says. “For him, it’s about the law and about justice, but what really drives him is how much he cares about people.”

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.

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