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From the Colts to the Speedway Bomber: The Papers of Judge William Steckler

Feature image: Judge William E. Steckler, center, and staff, United States District Court, Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division, circa 1950 (Gift of David Steckler, IHS)

William Elwood Steckler was born on Oct. 18, 1913, in Mount Vernon, Indiana. He earned his law degree in 1937 from Indiana University School of Law in Bloomington. In 1950, President Truman nominated Steckler to be judge for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana. At 36, he was the youngest judge in the country and had the heaviest caseload that year. Steckler was the sole judge for the district’s 60 counties until a second judge was added to the court in 1954. He was also the district’s chief judge from 1954 until 1982.

During his tenure, Steckler adopted several new practices which would alter future judicial procedure. He was the first judge to institute the pretrial conference as required practice in federal court, and he originated the idea of a procedural checklist for the trial of protracted cases. In Indiana, Steckler was the first judge to implement an intern program – giving law students access to the judge’s chambers to witness judicial processes – and the first trial judge to adopt the practice of submitting written instructions to the jury. Judge Steckler was also an active member of the Judicial Conference of the United States, where he served on numerous committees. He was on the drafting committees for multiple handbooks on the recommended procedure adopted by the Judicial Conference.

Judge Steckler oversaw several interesting and historically significant cases throughout his career. He presided over the case on the Colts’ move from Baltimore to Indianapolis, the case against Speedway bomber Brett Kimberlin, several cases on the reapportionment of legislative districts in Indiana, and election recount and political conspiracy cases. He also presided over Woodbridge vs. Housing Authority of the City of Evansville, a landmark integrated housing discrimination case.

Judge Steckler assumed senior judge status in December 1986. He continued his work until his death on March 8, 1995. The Judge William E. Steckler Collection includes materials from his time on various judicial conference committees, files of notable cases, correspondence, some photographs, an oral history transcript, and the judge’s compiled speeches, papers and opinions. Find the collection guide here.

Support for the Judge William E. Steckler Collection provided by the Historical Society of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana

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