Legal Ability

[This is second in a series of posts highlighting my experience in each of the ten factors in evaluating a judicial candidate, as suggested by C. Dale McClain, a former President of the Pennsylvania Bar Association in a 2009 blog post.]

What can you look for in a judicial candidate? 

Legal Ability is one important factor in selecting a judge.  In McClain's post, he goes on to describe what he means by it in more detail:

  Ashley Athey Photography

Ashley Athey Photography

Legal ability. Legal ability is having the intellectual capacity to interpret and apply established legal principles to factual situations and to communicate, in speech and in writing, the reasoning behind a legal conclusion. A judicial candidate should have the ability to reach concise decisions promptly, respond to issues in a clear manner and grasp quickly the real meaning of questions presented.

I have been an attorney for twenty years, practicing in first Minnesota and then Indiana, when I returned to Bloomington in 1999.  During law school, I honed my legal abilities by participating in a specialized labor law moot court and by volunteering at the Legal Aid Society of Minneapolis and the Haitian Refugee Project.   In fact, one of the reasons I chose to go to Minnesota for law school was because at the time, the University of Minnesota offered nineteen clinics, while IU was offering only two.  I wanted to get practical experience under my belt before entering the profession. 

Since law school, in working at the Minnesota Justice Foundation and what is now Indiana Legal Services, Inc., I learned about the law that most affects low income individuals, including landlord/tenant law, family law, and small claims matters.  

When I founded my law firm, Stafford Law Office, LLC, in 2004, I handled civil matters such as fence dispute cases, small claims matters, election disputes, government body disputes, small business matters, and will and trust preparation.  

For about the last ten years, I've focused on family law matters, including LGBTQIA+ matters, CHINS cases (child abuse and neglect), divorce, paternity, adoption, custody, prenuptial agreements, and other related matters.  In my family law practice, I've represented biological parents, grandparents, foster parents, adoptive parents, CASAs (Court Appointed Special Advocates), and children (as a Guardian ad Litem).  

I generally handle most of the courtroom work for my firm, appearing in court on average from two to four times per week.  An essential attribute of a litigator is the ability to think on one's feet--to handle a changing situation in the courtroom by re-evaluating the needed evidence, the testimony of a witness, and the Judge's reactions.  

I am very proud that in 2011 I was certified as a Family Law Specialist, by the Family Law Certification Board of Indiana, which required not only an additional exam, but also a showing that I'd participated in certain levels of practice, such as serving as principal counsel in more than thirty contested family law hearings with opposing counsel and drafting more than thirty prenuptial or settlement agreements. 

I am honored to be regularly selected as a Judge Pro Tempore, which is a substitute judge who presides when the sitting judge is unavailable.  In that capacity, I've heard and decided many family law and civil cases.  

I hope that if you have questions about my legal ability or the campaign, that you'll get in touch with me.  

Wishing you and yours the best,


Catherine Stafford