Pharos-Tribune

Local News

December 30, 2012

New judge presiding

Benjamin Diener, a first-time judge, has taken the bench as Carroll County Circuit Court Judge.

DELPHI — After about a week in his new job, Carroll County Circuit Court Judge Benjamin Diener is still getting used to the title of “Your Honor.”

The 32-year-old Republican candidate has been on the bench since Dec. 18 after he won the local primary against an incumbent judge and beat an independent candidate in the general election. A first-time judge, Diener acknowledges that he’ll have to do some learning on the job and work to prove the critics of his young age wrong.

Diener grew up in Monticello and earned his bachelor’s degree from Indiana University and a law degree from Barry University in Florida. He’s been in private practice since 2007 and is licensed in Texas, where he worked for as assistant attorney general for one year, as well as Indiana. He brought his private practice to Monticello in 2009 and later moved to Delphi.

Although he said his time as a private attorney did help, Diener said he feels that there’s not a direct correlation for the skills used as an attorney and as a judge.

“I don’t think anyone is ever fully prepared to change from attorney to judge,” Diener said.

Diener also didn’t have as much time for preparation as he expected. His term was supposed to begin in January, but former Carroll County Circuit Court Judge Donald Currie was called to serve as a Judge Advocate shortly after the primary. Since that time the circuit court has been using senior judges, but the last senior judge wasn’t able to finish out December and agreed to let Diener step in on Dec. 18.

“So that I can kind of get my feet wet,” Diener said.

At the end of January, Diener will attend a judges’ school for all newly elected judges in Indiana. But before then, Diener said he will preside over at least two jury trials and any matters that come up in circuit court, which includes class A, B and C felonies, divorce cases, some juvenile cases and civil filings.

“Between now and then it’s sort of a trial by fire,” Diener said.

So far, Diener said the job is “exciting” as he’s been presiding over a few court cases.

“The days go by incredibly fast,” Diener said.

In addition to his busy schedule, Diener said he will be working to assuage concerns about his relatively young age.

Diener said he feels that young judges are increasing in number in Indiana and that their ages make them humbler.

“I think it makes me better aware of how little I do know and take advice from counsel,” Diener said.

In his experience serving as a pro tempore judge in surrounding counties, Diener said he’s also found that individuals in court do not have a problem with age.  

“The people before the court are remarkably resilient,” Diener said.

Yet, Diener said he’s prepared for attorneys to test the limits of his experience.

Though he acknowledges that many attorneys wait until later in their careers to run for the bench, Diener said he just felt the timing was right this election cycle.

“It was a job that I wanted and thought I could do well,” Diener said.

Diener had to run against an incumbent judge in the primary and then run another campaign for the November election, both against the backdrop of questions about his age.

“I felt that my strengths outweighed any perceived or actual weaknesses,” Diener said.

And though he was confident in his candidacy, Diener said the reality of being a judge hasn’t set in yet.

“I won’t feel like a judge for at least half of my first term,” Diener said.

Patrick Manahan, a Delphi attorney, said he has worked with Diener on several cases while he was in private practice. Manahan says the county’s circuit court is “very demanding,” but that he believes Diener will work hard in his position.

“He will dig right in and he will do everything he can to represent that court well,” Manahan said.  

To keep up with the demanding cases, Manahan said he believes Diener will take time to think matters through before making a decision.

“I think he’s going to be thoughtful,” Manahan said. “He’s going to be deliberate.”

As the other Carroll County judge, Superior Court Judge Kurtis Fouts said he knows the Diener’s position will be challenging.

“I think being a judge is a big challenge,” Fouts said.

But Fouts also said he believes Diener will “rise to the occasion.”

Caitlin Huston is a staff reporter of the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached at 574-732-5148 or caitlin.huston@pharostribune.com.

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