Wednesday, October 27, 2010

More On The Passing Of Professor Henry Karlson

Jon Murray has a story in the Star today paying tribute to the life of Professor Henry Karlson. Murray writes:

Henry Karlson didn't curry favor with police or prosecutors. The law professor and often-quoted legal analyst second-guessed their decisions, called on elected officials to resign and even drew death threats.

Along the way, he also schooled countless budding lawyers on criminal law and left his fingerprints all over Indiana's criminal code.

Karlson, 67, died Monday night of complications from leukemia.

His death was announced during a City-County Council meeting less than two hours later -- one sign of the respect the outspoken Karlson had earned during three decades of teaching and punditry, despite his take-no-prisoners approach.

"Intellectual trepidation was not a part of Henry Karlson," said William F. Harvey, his longtime friend and a former dean of Indiana University School of Law-Indianapolis.

"He knew what he knew, and he knew it perfectly."

Karlson retired from the Indiana University School of Law-Indianapolis in 2008 but continued to teach criminal law until his illness sidelined him this year.

He was a fixture at the law school as much for his specialty in criminal law as for his staunch conservativism -- both in politics and his view of the law, a rarity in an increasingly left-leaning field. He cultivated an expertise in cases involving child abuse and molestation, often serving as an expert witness.

"Most people in Indianapolis who practice criminal law learned it from Henry Karlson," said Joel Schumm, who also teaches at the law school.

Karlson often helped state lawmakers draft changes to Indiana's criminal laws, and he participated in the writing of the state courts' evidence rules in the 1990s.

But it was his frequent comments to the media that expanded Karlson's profile beyond the legal profession. Even as he fought leukemia, Karlson took reporters' phone calls in his hospital room, up until a few weeks ago. He said the interviews kept his mind sharp.

His bluntness sometimes put him at odds with police and prosecutors, and he said he never sought a law license in Indiana in part so he could maintain his independence.

"The thing that would make him most angry is injustice. He hated seeing injustice," said his daughter, Liz Karlson, 40, who also became an attorney.

Earlier in his career, Henry Karlson received death threats -- from police officers, he asserted -- after taking the side of Fred Sanders, a parochial school teacher who shot and killed a police officer in 1988. Sanders had claimed he shot the officer in self-defense after several officers broke into his home and beat him following a complaint about Sanders' dog.

Sanders later pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter but, with help from Karlson, he won a civil suit against police for violating his civil rights.

More recently, Karlson weighed in on another police incident that drew public outrage. He blasted the mishandling by police of fellow officer David Bisard's blood test following a fatal crash; prosecutors dismissed DUI charges against Bisard because they decided the blood test was inadmissible.

"Everything else can be explained away," Karlson said in August. "There's only so many mistakes you can make before it starts looking like a plan."

More than a decade ago, when asked about his frequent criticism of police, Karlson said he only felt one obligation. "No, I haven't supported police. I've always supported law, because usually the police are on the side of the law."

Karlson grew up in Evanston, Ill. After earning his law degree at the University of Illinois, he served in the Army during the Vietnam War era as a prosecutor and a defender, later becoming the Army's youngest trial judge.

In 1972, he was assigned to write the Army's official "after action report" on the My Lai Massacre, addressing legal questions arising from the killing of about 300 Vietnamese villagers in 1968.

Karlson is also survived by his wife, Nancy, and a son, Henry Karlson III, 36.

His calling is set for 11 a.m. Friday at Crown Hill Funeral Home, 700 West 38th St., with his funeral following at 1 p.m.
On Jon's point that Henry didn't curry favor with police or prosecutors, I would add this. I recall Henry telling me how he was approached by the Marion Co. Prosecutor's Office soon after he retired and offered a contract to advise the office. The exact role the Prosecutor's Office had in mind for Henry was unclear, but in his mind, by entering into the agreement he would be effectively silenced as a critic of the office. Henry would have no part of that despite the nice income the contract would provide to him. He had already taken issue with a number of the decisions made by the office and he felt it was more important that he remain an independent voice to whom the media could turn for sound opinion, particularly when it was at odds with what the office was doing. That decision said a lot about the character of the man.


M Theory said...

The Star omitted that he is also survived by his daughter, Liz.

Gary R. Welsh said...

No, Liz is quoted earlier in the story.

Unknown said...

Professor Karlson was a good teacher and I consulted with him often in the drafting of crime victim's legislation when I served in the Indiana House.