The Journal Gazette
Friday, January 17, 2020 1:00 am

Trailblazing Superior judge plans to retire

MATTHEW LEBLANC | The Journal Gazette

Nancy Eshcoff Boyer – Allen Superior Court's longest-tenured judge and a pioneer among female jurists – will retire June 15. 

The county's first female judge, Boyer announced Thursday she will leave the bench after nearly 30 years handling cases in the court's civil division. 

“All I have ever wanted to do was make a difference,” she said. “Being a judge has allowed me to do that in ways I never imagined. I've been part of everything from improving the delivery of justice statewide to helping people keep their homes right here in Allen County.

“I'm so thankful for the opportunity to have served and so appreciative to the citizens of Allen County for their trust.”

Gov. Evan Bayh appointed her to the post in 1991, and she was elected in 1992. Boyer was reelected in 1998, 2004, 2010 and 2016 and presides over cases involving businesses, medical malpractice and personal injury. 

She served twice as chief judge – most recently last year, when the court saw an unprecedented shift in who wields the gavel.

Judge Jennifer DeGroote's appointment ensured a female majority of judges. 

Four of the court's nine judges are men. 

Colleagues say Boyer is a dedicated, no-nonsense judge with a talent for finding creative ways to combat difficult problems. She's received awards including the 2011 Excellence in Public Information award from the Indiana Judges Association and is credited with continuing the Mortgage Foreclosure Trial Court Assistance Project – an initiative that has helped hundreds of residents keep their homes – after state funding dried up. 

In 2014, Chief Justice Loretta Rush of the Indiana Supreme Court honored Boyer for a stint leading the state Commission for Continuing Legal Education and “outstanding performance to the cause of justice as a judicial officer.” Boyer also helped create “plain English” instructions for jurors in civil cases as part of a statewide jury reform effort.

“(She) is a tireless innovator who didn't just break the glass ceiling for women in the Allen County courts,” said Judge Craig Bobay, administrative judge of the civil division.

“She has never been afraid to think big and work hard to do more with the leadership role the community entrusted to her. Allen County is a better and more compassionate place because Judge Boyer chose a career in public service.”

Boyer is a Fort Wayne native and graduated from South Side High School. She earned a bachelor's degree in English literature from DePauw University in 1973 and graduated in 1976 from Indiana University School of Law in Indianapolis. 

She worked as a referee in the court's Small Claims Division – where Boyer's husband, Thomas Boyer, is a magistrate – before taking the bench. 

Thomas Boyer also will retire in 2020, but later in the year.

Nancy Boyer said Thursday she didn't at first think of herself as a trailblazer. As years pass, though, it's clear many things have changed. 

“One attorney who interviewed me (for a job after law school) asked if I had a boyfriend and if I'd quit the practice,” she said.

The lawyer later asked to write a recommendation letter when Boyer was among candidates to join the bench in Allen County, she said. 

Fran Gull joined her as a judge in 1997. She credits Boyer with helping her learn to balance work and family concerns such as child care. 

“Judge Boyer was instrumental to me in getting my feet underneath me,” Gull said. “I'll miss her. She's always been accessible and approachable.”

Boyer said she is leaving a job she loves and work in which she's constantly learning. Medical malpractice cases are among the most interesting, she said. 

In retirement, Boyer said she'll run, relax and do volunteer work “that doesn't have anything to do with the law.”

There's also a granddaughter she'll visit.

“The first day I'm retired, I'm going to drive over there,” she said. 

Boyer's term ends in 2022. Her successor will be selected by Gov. Eric Holcomb from finalists chosen by the Allen County Judicial Nominating Commission. 

Holcomb will decide when that process will start. 

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