by Laurie Gray
Sometimes I still ask myself what
I want to be when I grow up. I'm a farm girl turned Spanish teacher turned trial lawyer turned parent who
now aspires to write in the oddly unscheduled spare time afforded the mother of a preschooler. I don't
recall ever deciding I wanted to be any of these things as a child. It's just the way my life has unfolded.
grew up in a conservative family in rural Indiana and spent more Saturday mornings scraping hog lots than I care to count.
I went to Goshen College, a small Mennonite college in Goshen, Indiana, because they sent me a brochure that looked
like a blue United States passport. Goshen College requires all students to spend a Study Service Term
in a third-world country studying the culture and language for six weeks and then performing volunteer service for six weeks.
I was hooked. I wanted to see the world.
I went to Costa Rica in 1983, living
with a family in the capital city, San Jose, during the first half and then with another family in Hojancha--a small pueblo
20 miles from the nearest paved road--for the second half. I did not grow up with animals inside the house,
so each morning in Hojancha I felt compelled to shoo all of the chickens out of my room to dress in private. Then
I would walk several miles down a dirt road, usually followed by the neighbor's pig, to the school where I taught English.
By the time I left Costa Rica in
the spring of 1983, I was fluent enough in Spanish to spend my junior year abroad in Barcelona, Spain. Why
would anyone want to spend every day trudging to classes on campus and every night studying in a library if they could live
abroad and get most of their education through experience? All I had to do was to change my major (which
I had already changed from Undecided to Psychology) to Spanish so my scholarships would apply abroad. As
a Spanish major, I would also have to take at least six credit hours of another foreign language to graduate, so I signed
up for German at the University of Barcelona. For the record, Barcelona is a great place to drink German
beer, but not the best place to study German. If I hadn't spent two weeks in Germany over Christmas vacation,
I might not have passed.
Over an extended Christmas break, another student and I bought
Eurail Youth Passes (giving us complete access to western European by train) and backpacked through Europe for a month.
We traveled to Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Holland, and England. In Italy we attended
a mass given by Pope John Paul II at St. Peter's Square. We also had the most bizarre experience in Rome.
As we were walking out of the Vatican
Museum, a gentleman walking in front of us dropped a stack of postcards. We stopped to help him pick them
up. He thanked us and asked us to join him for a drink. His name was Thomas Bernadette,
and he claimed to be a Swedish prince. He invited us to meet him again in Rome during our Easter vacation.
I went back to Rome with another friend, and while we were there, he asked me to marry him. I declined
for two reasons: I had flown home for a friend's wedding in February and gotten engaged to a high school
sweetheart; and the Swedish prince was gay, wanted children, and thought I would make a suitable mother and companion.
The engagement to my high school sweetheart ended shortly after I returned to Indiana from my year abroad.
The summer between Costa Rica and
Spain, I had worked on the line at Elkhart Traveler, a trailer factory in Goshen. The summer after Spain,
I managed the dining room at Amish Acres in Nappanee, Indiana. I added Secondary Education to my major
so I could get licensed to teach Spanish and did my student teaching at Northwood High School in Nappanee. To
make myself more marketable, I decided to add a minor in English Education by taking five literature courses in the spring
of 1986. I can't tell you how many books I read or papers I wrote during that four-month literary fog,
but I can tell you that studying German in Barcelona and picking up an English minor in a semester are both excellent preparation
for law school.
Although my parents were hoping
I'd spend the summer after graduation earning money and trying to find a teaching job, I wanted to travel. Finances
being a serious issue, I wrote to a missionary in Guatemala and offered to work in exchange for room and board.
I did have one job interview in LaPorte, Indiana before I left. I heard there might be a Spanish
teaching position available at Whitko High School in South Whitley, Indiana, and delivered my resume to the principal there
in person before I left for Guatemala. He kept my resume, but told me that he could not begin interviewing
for the position until later in the summer.
I arrived in Guatemala, I learned that the missionary had decided to go on furlough for the summer. We
met the night I arrived in Guatemala City, and he and his family left for the States several days later. He
left me his house (complete with a gardener and a lady who did all of the cooking, laundry and cleaning), his van, his congregation,
just enough cash to run the household for two months, and a list of all of the church groups that would be visiting during
the summer. I met the groups at the airport, acted as their chauffeur, tour guide, and interpreter, and
in between taught a few English classes and played piano and guitar at the church.
I was there, the principal from Whitko High School tracked me down through my parents, called me in Guatemala, and offered
me a teaching job. I gladly accepted. The following week the principal from LaPorte
called to offer me the teaching position at his high school. I had to decline. Had the
calls been reversed, I would have accepted the position in LaPorte and have no idea where I would be now or what I might be
When I returned from Guatemala, I met with the principal
at Whitko. He walked me down to my classroom to show me around. He opened the top left-hand
drawer of the desk that was now mine, and a pink, tropical wine cooler, still unopened, rolled down to greet us.
He picked it up, put it in his pocket, and suggested this was why they fired my predecessor. I immediately
became the Spanish Department since I was the only Spanish teacher in the entire school system. I also
became the Foreign Language Chair because the French Department was on maternity leave. When I realized
there were students in my classes that had never been outside of Indiana, I instituted annual field trips to Chicago, and
I took a group of students to Mexico. I also coached volleyball, basketball, and academic teams during
the four years that I taught at Whitko, and spent two more summers doing missionary work in Guatemala.
While teaching, I met my first husband,
a charming mechanical engineering student at Indiana Institute of Technology. He was Malaysian, although
his family was actually Sikh from the Punjab region of India. He was the one who told me I should go to
law school so I could "get paid to argue all day long and then come home in the evening and be nice."
I spent the summer of 1990 with him in Malaysia before starting law school at Indiana University, Bloomington.
Getting my first law job in Fort
Wayne required significantly more effort than landing my first teaching job. I applied for countless summer
clerkship positions after my first year of law school with no success. So I worked that summer going door-to-door
for the Citizen's Action Coalition while my husband and I lived with four other foreign men, also Tech students, in a small
kiln on Winter Street. During my second year of law school I began the Fort Wayne job-search anew with the help
of a good friend who was living in Fort Wayne at the time. She was in sales, and she called every law office
in the Fort Wayne phonebook trying to sell me. She landed me an interview at Sowers, Bleeke & Associates,
and they hired me on the spot. I worked for them all summer and continued working for them on Thursdays
and Fridays during my third year of law school and as an associate after I graduated.
When Sowers, Bleeke & Associates
dissolved, my plan was to work for another two years in Fort Wayne until I had reciprocity to practice law in Michigan, and
then move to Michigan where my husband was living and working. One of the partners I worked with was considering
joining the law firm Beckman, Lawson, Sandler, Snyder & Federoff. He gave them my resume as well, saying
he'd like for me to join them as an associate. He ended up going elsewhere, but they hired me.
As it turned out, this was where I met my current husband, Frank Gray--the lawyer, not the newspaper guy.
Ultimately, Frank was to decide whether or not the firm would hire me, but
I had to interview with seven or eight other lawyers over the course of a week before I even met Frank. Tiring
of my own canned interview answers to the point of not caring, I answered all of Frank's questions quite candidly.
In response to a question about my work ethic and ability to complete projects, I told him my tearing-down-the-barn
story. I'd never told the story before. Frank attributes both my hiring and our marriage
to this story:
It was the first Sunday of summer
vacation between my sophomore and junior years of high school. On the way home from church, my father advised
me that my summer project would be to tear down the old red barn next to our house. This was not a little
shed or pole barn. I recall asking him in disbelief whether he expected me to start on the top and fall
through the roof or start at the bottom and let the whole barn fall on me. Dad didn't laugh.
He wasn't kidding.
The next morning, Dad took me out to the barn with a
4-wheel drive truck, a heavy tow chain, and an ax. He showed me how to wrap one end of the chain around
a supporting beam of the barn, hook the other end to the back of the truck outside the barn, pull forward slowly until the
chain was stretched tight, then floor it until the beam came down. Then I would back the truck up to relax
the chain, unhook the chain from the beam, use the ax to break down the debris, throw it into the back of the truck, and haul
it away to a burning site. This is a true story. I spent the summer tearing down the
Frank and I did not experience love
at first sight. He hired me because of my barn story, but as soon as I started working for him, he told
me that my job was to sit down, shut up, and pay attention. He'd let me know when he thought I could handle
a speaking role. That first week, he also walked into my office specifically to give me this instruction: "Trust
no one." I looked him straight in the eyes and replied, "I assume that includes you."
He said, "Yes!" That's when he really started liking me. Since my job
was to follow him around and learn, I was destined to either love Frank or hate him.
Frank grew up on the
south side of Chicago. He was an Eagle Scout and Student Council President in grade school, high school
and college. He served with the U.S. Infantry in Vietnam and was awarded the Combat Infantryman's Badge,
three Bronze Stars, the Army Commendation Medal for Valor, an Air Medal, and the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry. He's
a former federal prosecutor and a fellow in the American College of Trial Lawyers, which means he's one of the best in the
country. He continues to live by his Boy Scout oath to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous,
kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. He took me to Ixtapa, Mexico, and proposed
to me over dinner at an elegant outdoor restaurant on the side of a mountain by the Pacific Ocean. I love
As much as we enjoyed working together,
once we were a couple, we agreed it would be better if we were not working in the same firm. I went to
Steele, Ulmschneider & Malloy to practice insurance defense. Jane Malloy was the most thorough and
tenacious civil litigator I'd encountered as a plaintiff's attorney. She taught me several lessons as opposing
counsel, and I learned even more working with her.
I eventually landed at the Allen
County Prosecutor's office because Karen Richards, before she was our elected Prosecutor, was looking for someone she could
mentor. She was trying all of the most serious felony sex crimes and laying the groundwork for what is
now the Child Advocacy Center of Allen County, Inc. When I took the job as a Deputy Prosecuting Attorney,
Karen's advice was "Buy a gun. Learn to use it." I bought a gun, went through
the same handgun training that all of the Sheriff's reserves complete, and became one of the few Goshen College alumni to
carry a Glock. (Mennonites are pacifists).
spent most of my time as a full-time Deputy Prosecutor at the Child Advocacy Center and in Court trying rape and child molest
cases. After awhile our investigators started calling me "The Hanging Queen."
I wish I could tell you it was due to all of the great trials I won. There were a few of those.
Frank likes to joke that the newspaper started doing "box scores" for my sentencing hearings to explain how
a rapist or child molester with only one victim could get a sentence of over 200 years.
The truth, though, is that felony
sex crimes are some of the most difficult cases to try. Many of the cases were "he said/she said"
cases, with no physical evidence. If there was DNA evidence, the victim was usually old enough for consent to be an issue:
Yes, she was roughed up a bit (or maybe even a lot), but she was a willing participant. I had six
mistrials in one seven-month period because the jurors just couldn't agree beyond a reasonable doubt. When
the jury can't reach a unanimous decision, it's called a "hung jury." The judge declares a mistrial
and resets the case for a new trial. I was "The Hanging Queen" because I tried so many difficult
cases that resulted in hung juries.
Deputy Prosecutor, the last thing on my mind was having my own child. My biological clock wasn't ringing
in my ears, and motherhood took me completely by surprise. The pregnancy itself was unplanned.
I was 37, and Frank was 59. We had never even talked about having a child. I
went to see my OB-GYN and walked out with an ultrasound picture of our 12-week-old baby in utero. I was
already through the first trimester. And I enjoyed good health throughout the entire pregnancy, working
full-time right up through the day my water broke.
planned to go back to work full-time after 12 weeks. Our daughter was born in September of 2001, and I
did go back and try one four-day child molest case in November of 2001. It was crazy. I
got only two or three hours of sleep each night and prayed for court recesses so that I could hide in the Westlaw room of
the law library and pump breast milk before it exploded through my suit. I survived the week, but Frank
and I decided my working as a full-time trial attorney while our daughter was so young was not conducive to the home life
we wanted for any of us.
As it turns out, I genuinely enjoy
being Victoria's mom. Frank will be ready to semi-retire in another four years and become the soccer mom
he's always wanted to be. Victoria will be in school full-time, and I'll go back to work full-time.
In the meantime, I'm back at the Prosecutor's Office one day a week, working in the Drug Court Intervention Program.
I've also been doing some Spanish translating for our office, including documents to extradite a murder suspect found in Mexico
and numerous misdemeanor forms.
In addition to writing a column for Fort Wayne Woman,
I've enrolled in a writing course in children's literature. I'd like to write a series of age-appropriate
books for children who find themselves involved in the legal system as victims or witnesses to help them understand and process
the experience of testifying in court. I'm also working on a parenting book, which you can check out on
my website at www.SocraticParenting.com.
Several months ago I heard a speaker introduce himself
saying, "I used to be a lawyer..." I cannot imagine myself saying that anymore than I would say that I used to be
a parent or I used to be a teacher. As I continue on life's journey I will always be a student, a teacher,
a lawyer, a parent, and a writer. In my heart I will always be a child. What do I want
to be when I grow up? I want to be old--really, really old.