Behind every good lawyer, there may be a legal investigator.
It's a profession that goes beyond the trench coat and magnifying glass, beyond what a private investigator does. Not every sleuth is a legal investigator.
Quite often, legal investigators pursue the facts in personal injury and criminal defense cases, contract disputes, divorce and child custody matters and corporate due diligence.
The National Association of Legal Investigators is pretty picky about its members, according to one board officer, and requires a rigorous background check and review before membership acceptance.
The new national director of NALI is Ken Shelton, a legal investigator in Angola, whose one-year term began in September.
“It's pretty hard to get into NALI,” said Nicole Bocra, NALI's assistant national director and a legal investigator in Arlington, Virginia, whose specialty is forensic accounting and white-collar crime. “You can't just pass your state licensing test and get in.”
Before accepting the responsibilities of director of NALI, which has about 350 members, Shelton, 70, was director for Region II representing Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and West Virginia, according to the NALI website.
Bocra said Shelton is a good choice for the job because he is open-minded and diplomatic.
“All of us are from different areas of the world, including Canada and England. All of us bring a different skill set to the board and that skill set, Ken is very good at utilizing everyone's strengths,” Bocra said.
NALI, with headquarters in Michigan, holds two annual conferences all over the U.S.
Shelton, a retired Indiana State Police trooper, said the year will give him a chance to work closely with the association's members and get involved with training and networking.
“I'll learn as well and help direct the course of the members and new members. The better they are trained, the better job they will do,” Shelton said.
The director's job is a volunteer-elected position that can span two years, Shelton said. He has no plans to retire from the profession yet.
Many legal investigators have fields of specialty and Bocra believes Shelton excels at witness interviews.
Shelton said during his 13 years with Indiana State Police, he spent two years in undercover narcotics in various regions. His favorite part of the job was criminal investigations.
“In a criminal case, they may say their client was charged with a crime, so we would interview the defendant and get his or her side of the story (along with reading) police investigators' reports. You ask questions and you start putting the case together and see if it makes sense. You make sure the defendant's rights are protected as well,” Shelton said.
In a criminal defense case, a legal investigator might conduct witness interviews, identify experts to testify, coordinate all the lab tests and results or run background checks on potential jurors, Bocra said.
“Social media and data resources of the internet have contributed to the investigative services,” Shelton said.
Don Johnson, a former national director and legal investigator in Bloomington, said NALI is there for networking among members and continuing education.
“We have to maintain certain educational units every year,” said Johnson, whose firm does background screening.
He called Shelton “a gentleman and a scholar and a man with a good heart and a big heart. He's a great guy. He really is.”
Asked for an example of a high-profile legal investigator, no one from NALI wanted to offer up any names. As a rule, they are behind-the-scenes experts hired across the aisle to get to the bottom of a situation.
NALI's motto, Shelton said, says it all: “Without the true facts, there can be no justice.”
At a glance
Current job: national director, National Association of Legal Investigators
Business: Shelton Investigations, LLC
Family: wife Karen, four children, eight grandchildren
Education: Angola High School graduate; B.A., Tri-State University (now Trine University), social science; graduate of the Indiana State Police Academy; retired Indiana State Police Officer
Other duties: Steuben County Council member; Cameron Hospital Foundation Board member; Turning Point Homeless Shelter board president; Angola Area Chamber of Commerce and the 101 Lakes Kiwanis of Angola, member; Fairview Missionary Church, Angola, member