The Matchbreaker: How to Lawyer a High-Dollar Divorce
This article originally appeared in the February 2005 issue. Buck died in 2010.
There’s a story Jim Buck likes to tell about a former client, an Indianapolis businessman named Harold Tomlinson. By the early 1970s, Tomlinson had amassed a small fortune as the proprietor of several local concerns, including an airport, a mobile-home park, a carpet-and-linoleum shop, and a used-furniture store called Mama Richey’s Wore House. A widower, Tomlinson had fallen in love with a young French woman named Germaine, whose friends called her Suzy but whom Tomlinson, in his conversations with Buck, always referred to as “the French whore.” Before long, Suzy was pregnant with their child and eventually gave birth to a baby girl.
Wanting to provide a stable home life for his beloved daughter, Tomlinson decided to marry Suzy. Also wanting to protect his own assets, and anticipating an eventual divorce, he asked Buck to draw up a prenuptial agreement. Buck argued against a prenup; in those days, Indiana courts disregarded the contracts in divorce cases because, essentially, lawmakers saw them as detrimental to marriage. But Tomlinson insisted on Buck’s drafting an agreement and on having his bride-to-be sign it.
One night not long into the marriage, Tomlinson, who owned a saloon on the westside, came home late. Drunk, he lay down on the couch so as not to disturb his sleeping wife. He awoke when Suzy broke a wood-covered Bible over his head, then took the “family .38” out to the driveway and emptied its contents into the tires of Tomlinson’s car. Still in her nightgown, she grabbed the baby and left, pushing the stroller, gun in hand, up Kessler Boulevard.
Suffice it to say, the marriage was over. Buck, sure the prenup he’d drafted for Tomlinson would never hold up in court, set out to convince the presiding judge that it was valid. And in a stunning decision, the judge agreed. Tomlinson v. Tomlinson became a landmark case in Indiana matrimonial law—the first time ever that a judge recognized a premarital agreement in a divorce case. Though it would take the General Assembly 20 years to write prenups into law, the Tomlinson decision effectively legitimized them thereafter. And Buck, who sometimes calls himself “the father of the prenup,” estimates that he has tried more than 300 of them since. (Side note: The Tomlinson daughter, Tomisue, would later marry Conseco founder Stephen Hilbert, whose ex-wife Buck also represented. More on that later.)
Among other lawyers and potential clients, Tomlinson helped establish Buck as a daring and highly skilled advocate, placing him squarely on the A-list of Indianapolis divorce attorneys. He has since climbed to the top of that list, earning a reputation that has put him at the center of the highest-profile, highest-stakes Indianapolis divorces of the past 30 years. His big-name clients include Christel DeHaan, Reggie Miller, Louann Hilbert (ex-wife of the aforementioned Steve Hilbert), and Meg Irsay, wife of Colts owner Jim Irsay (the two separated briefly but never divorced). When a marriage goes bad, when reporters are calling, when there’s lots of money on the table, chances are Buck will be there to help split up the pot.
The offices of Buck Berry Landau & Breunig are located in a soulless building on the fringe of downtown’s central business district. Within the building, Buck’s own large corner office is more country squire than big-city attorney. The wood-paneled walls are dotted with trophy fish (one caught by his wife, Jeri) and nautical bric-a-brac. Wooden duck-hunting decoys sit on the shelf behind his desk. Wearing a tweed jacket with leather elbow patches, a neat white pocket square tucked into his breast pocket, the 75-year-old Buck suits his surroundings. When his clients come here to consult him, he seats them in comfy high-backed chairs. He takes their coats, smiles broadly and regales them with humorous stories colored by folksy turns of phrase (to wit: in Buck’s words, his partner recently took a case and “shook it like a dog shakes a rabbit”). Small in stature, with neatly parted silver hair, slightly drooping jowls, rosy cheeks, and large eyeglasses, Buck can, at times, seem absent-minded and rambling, suggesting an aging small-town lawyer who maintains an office so he’ll have somewhere to go every day. Given his disarming congeniality, you can imagine his clients feeling as though, far from picking through the detritus of a shattered marriage, they’re sharing fish tales in their grandpa’s cozy den.
Of course, beneath the warm-and-fuzzy exterior, Buck is sharp as a thistle. He fights like a wounded bear and smells blood like a shark. Attorney Doug Church calls him Kindly Old Jim. “But keep your eyes peeled,” he cautions. “Pretty soon you’ll find that Kindly Old Jim has sharpened his knives and figured out a way to excise your heart.”
Buck’s fearsome legend might owe as much to his love for the limelight as to his actual record. After all, top-tier divorce lawyers, many of them every bit as capable as Buck, take multimillion-dollar cases on a fairly regular basis; they’re just not as likely to chat about them in the newspaper. Attorney Frank Miroff, for instance, widely regarded as one of Buck’s worthiest legal adversaries, says, “I’m not comfortable talking about cases. Even if a case belongs on Saturday Night Live or Monty Python’s Flying Circus, to the client it’s not a comedy skit.”
“A lot of lawyers are hesitant to respond to the media,” says journalist Welton W. “Art” Harris II, who covered several of Buck’s cases for The Indianapolis Star and The Indianapolis News. “But Buck has great repartee with reporters. Sometimes he would drip with anticipation hoping you’d ask the right question, just so he could tell you the answer.”
Buck tends to save his most quote-worthy material for the courtroom, where, says Miroff, “he’s often going to be more the center of attention than the actual case.” In the lead-up to what was perhaps Buck’s most-publicized divorce, Marita Stavrou, model and actress, sought $18,000 a month in spousal maintenance from Indiana Pacers star Reggie Miller, Buck’s client, until a permanent settlement could be reached. Most of that money, she argued, was for rent on her $10,000-a-month New York apartment.
“Are you telling me everybody in New York lives in a $10,000-a-month apartment?” Buck asked Stavrou in a hearing.
“I’m telling you for 2,000 to 2,200 square feet, it’s $10,000,” she said.
“You’re a pretty small little lady,” was Buck’s straight-faced reply. “Aren’t you going to bounce around in 2,000 square feet?”
In the courtroom, Buck uses the grandpa act when it suits him but is just as likely to trade the tweeds for double-breasted silk suits in gunmetal gray and sharpen the rhetoric to a rapier point. Attorney Ed DeLaney says that during depositions and cross-examinations, Buck treats opposing parties “like those fish that are mounted on the wall in his office—with great respect, though with a big hook.” At a recent hearing in Hamilton County, for a case in which Buck is representing a nurse against her physician husband, he argued that the court should stop a complicated real-estate transaction involving the couple’s $1-million-plus Carmel home because it was too risky. During cross-examination, the doctor snapped at Buck, claiming Buck had “testified” that there wasn’t a for-sale sign in the yard of the home. “Oh, did you get a law degree with your medical degree, Doctor?” Buck replied tartly. Sometimes, he says, it’s necessary to “hit ’em in the kisser.”
Buck forged his court-tested toughness in his early days of lawyering. Before 1973, when Indiana overhauled its marital laws, the distribution of marital assets was determined by fault. The basic idea, which guided the law in most states, was that if a marriage went bust, someone was to blame, and it was up to a judge, at trial, to determine guilt in every case. Even in uncontested divorces, the petitioner had to show up in court with two witnesses who’d testify to the guilt of the other spouse. The court eventually punished the party at fault by awarding him or her a smaller slice of the marital pie.
“That was trial by ambush,” says Buck. “Sure, go ahead and bring in the assistant pro from the golf course, who was doing the wife in the sand traps. Just bring him in. It was all part of the game.”
Not surprisingly, in the late ’50s and ’60s, when Buck cut his legal teeth, divorce trials tended to be knock-down-drag-out affairs in which intrepid lawyers went to great lengths to defame, discredit, and generally smear the other side in order to win the judge’s sympathies. Since shielding your client from fault might mean the difference between winning 90 percent or 10 percent of the marital pot, many divorce lawyers were little more than glorified ringleaders who’d parade before the court any witness willing to badmouth the other spouse. Private investigators, frequently hired to catch cheating partners, presented tawdry descriptions and lurid photographs.
Buck’s favorite tale from the old days is borrowed from the personal divorce trial of his colleague John Proffitt. As Buck tells it, with Proffitt sitting in the courtroom, the opposing attorney called a private investigator to the stand to testify that Proffitt had committed adultery. After the P.I. finished a lengthy, detailed description of the supposed affair, the opposing attorney asked him if the man he’d seen committing these sordid acts was present in the courtroom. The P.I. said no. Apparently, he’d been tailing the wrong guy.
Members of the family-law bar generally regard the courtroom proceedings of yesteryear as representing the dark ages of divorce, when professionalism took a backseat to theatricality. But Buck remembers the days before no-fault divorce fondly. “That was trial by ambush—it was so much fun,” he says. “It was walk in and kill, like you had a rifle and you were in a shooting gallery. We were flamboyant and unrestrained. Anything was fair game. A couple of times somebody popped me with a silver bullet at the last minute by bringing in a witness I’d never heard of, or didn’t know existed, or didn’t believe existed. Sure, go ahead and bring in the assistant pro from the golf course, who was doing the wife in the sand traps. Just bring him in. It was all part of the game.”
James A. Buck’s first experience with divorce occurred at age 6, when his parents’ marriage ended. His father, an automotive editor for The Indianapolis Star, had lost everything in the Depression, turned to drink, and eventually moved to St. Louis. Buck remembers the divorce as civil and notes that, throughout his childhood, neither parent spoke ill of the other. “That gave me a sense of what it ought to be like,” he says. “But don’t ask me if I encounter that very often, because I don’t. They set standards I rarely see in divorces today.”
Thereafter, Buck’s mother raised him virtually singlehandedly, in a one-bedroom apartment near Shortridge High School. They were, in Buck’s words, “dirt poor,” and never owned a car until Buck, who as a teenager worked as a copy boy at the Star, saved enough money for a down payment. Buck’s mother “sacrificed, sacrificed, sacrificed,” he says, and, despite the circumstances, exposed him to the city’s elite. A bridge-club maven, she hosted popular card-playing gatherings and taught the game to politicians, judges, and attorneys, whom Buck met along the way.
That early exposure to lawyers notwithstanding, Buck drifted into journalism as a first career choice and in college worked on The Butler Collegian newspaper, which might explain his keen ear for a good story and cozy relationship with the press. Upon returning from a tour in the Korean War, he got an $85-a-week gig with Channel 8 taping celebrity interviews—Dwight Eisenhower and Joe Louis were two of the more memorable—for evening broadcasts. It wasn’t until a couple of JAG officers whom Buck knew from the Indiana National Guard told him, “Buck, with all your bullshit, you ought to go to law school,” that he found his field. He graduated from the Indiana University School of Law–Indianapolis in 1958.
Although there’s no official tally, after nearly 50 years of practicing family law it’s safe to say that Buck has helped clients win, or not lose, hundreds of millions of dollars; during the writing of this article, he was working one case with more than $100 million in assets at stake. The majority of Buck’s clients are well-to-do, famous, or both. Roughly 65 percent of his cases originate in Hamilton County; his practice follows the money. He has represented industrialists, entrepreneurs, restaurateurs, pro athletes, judges, doctors, and other lawyers—or their spouses. It’s not uncommon, in these cases, for both parties to be doctors, or for one to be a doctor and the other a lawyer. But lawyers often make the most difficult clients because, according to Buck, they think they know everything and tend to “look down on divorce law.”
In contrast to the old days, marital bust-ups in Indiana now aren’t so much divorces as dissolutions, and when a couple wants to call it quits, division of their property is determined according to the contribution of each in the marriage. Once Buck’s clients determine what they want—or don’t want their spouses getting their hands on—he fights like hell for it. In straightforward dissolution proceedings, this can entail little more than coming to the table, often before a mediator, and negotiating a settlement. With varying degrees of wrangling, this is how most of Buck’s cases are now resolved; only about one in 10 ever makes it to trial.
But because Buck is a throwback to the days when all divorces went to trial, he’s at his best when he has an audience. A dramatist with the gift of gab, he’s a near-movie caricature of the genteel trial lawyer who cajoles, jests, scolds, and pontificates on points of law to sway the judge’s opinion. He sometimes describes his courtroom persona as Happy Jim, a salesman presenting a “dog-and-pony show.” “When you deal with human emotion, it tends to wear on you,” says Harris, the retired journalist. “But people like Buck, who have made a career out of that, seem to get some reward from it other than just money.” The reward for Buck is clearly the thrill of fighting, gaining advantage and soaking up the accolades. Some observers note that Buck is driven nearly as much by ego as by his clients’ interests, though the ultimate goal—winning—is the same either way.
And Buck, it seems, is never above entertaining the court at his own expense. In a hearing for Hilbert v. Hilbert, in which Buck represented Louann Hilbert in her divorce from Stephen Hubert, he told the judge that his case would be “extremely difficult for an ADR person [i.e., a mediator], because we’re having to go to places like Stanford and MIT for outside experts to handle some of the valuation issues.” He continued, “I would think it would take a learned judge like yourself to resolve those … I’d hate to have a layman lawyer without your experience to try to rule on these very delicate and intricate issues.”
Proffitt, the opposing counsel in the case, burst out laughing in the courtroom. “I took my boots off before I came in this morning,” he said. “I put my hip-waders on before I came in,” the judge replied.
On the flipside, Buck’s antics have been known to exasperate judges and attorneys and can bog down the legal process. “Mr. Buck is a storyteller,” says Darryn Duchon, his partner. “There’s a time and place for stories, but sometimes when I’m trying to get business done, I can see his head snap and I know a story’s coming out. I have to give him The Look so we can keep some continuity in the work.” It’s Duchon, a degreed accountant, who handles much of the business end of his and Buck’s divorce work, crunching numbers and inventorying couples’ assets. “A lot of times,” Duchon says, “we end up fighting over people’s lamps.”
Still, the intrigue Buck loves isn’t totally dead. When one of his clients moved to divorce his second wife, she claimed to be disabled by fibromyalgia, a debilitating nerve condition, and demanded that he support her. Buck advised him to hire a disability-determination specialist to look into her claim—and it wasn’t long before the investigator had footage of her mowing the lawn, moving heavy boxes, and taking out the trash. Buck’s client figures Buck saved him about $850,000.
In another fine piece of snooping, Buck instructed his client Donnette Hall, who was divorcing one of the original shareholders of Warsaw, Indiana–based Biomet, to tape-record a phone conversation with her estranged husband, whom she claimed was harassing her. She did, and the next time they went to court Buck played a tape of her husband calling his client, her sister, and her mother “whores.” The judge smacked the offending spouse with a $10,000 fine.
The man whose ex-wife claimed to have fibromyalgia understands that “a divorce attorney is basically a babysitter”; Buck once admitted to him that Monday mornings are particularly trying because clients tend to spat with their estranged spouses all weekend, then can’t wait to “tell on” them. Early in the man’s divorce, the court ordered him to share the family home with his wife until the dissolution was finalized; because the house was divided into two separate apartments, it was thought they could save money by staying there, while still staying out of each other’s way. Problem was, his wife couldn’t resist the temptation to commit mischief while he was out. He’d return home to find his clothes thrown on the carpet, his toiletries emptied onto the bathroom floor, and his papers scattered about the office. When he changed the locks on his office door, she broke it down. Solution? Call Buck.
“We’re helping people at their worst time,” says Duchon. “A lot of them are at their all-time low. That’s part of what makes the job look bad—you’re dealing with bad situations. Do other attorneys frown on that? Sure. They’re like, ‘How can you do that?’ I’m dealing with hysterical, upset people whose lives are falling apart. A lot of attorneys don’t want to be involved in that.” In the interest of sanity, he and Buck typically decide whether to take a case based on how messy it is. When they already have a client who’s particularly high-maintenance, who calls multiple times a day, who questions every maneuver they make, who’s incoherent, who has psychological problems, who, as Duchon says, “needs a box of Kleenex,” then they try to avoid taking on another one who’s going to be the same way.
Understandably, a lawyer like Buck, who’s stood at the center of so much bitterness and misery for so long, tends to become an object of scorn for his clients’ spouses. It’s difficult to go out about town without running into them. Several judges have recused themselves from his cases to avoid conflicts of interest after he represented their ex in a divorce. On more than one occasion, his clients’ still-bitter exes have gotten “nose-to-nose” with him when he’s run into them at polite social gatherings. His wife, Jeri, says “you learn to duck when people ask, ‘Are you Jim Buck’s wife?’”
While Buck tends to shrug off the animus of his clients’ spouses, Miroff takes a philosophical view. “The lawyer represents human foibles,” he says. “If one client has problems, then the other lawyer, whose job it is to emphasize those problems, is going to be a mirror for that client and thus the bearer of bad tidings. The client thinks, ‘That lawyer makes me look too much like I am!’ We make people look in their own souls, and they don’t like to do that. It’s the exceptional client who is capable of looking in a mirror and saying, ‘Gee, I made a mistake. I shouldn’t have had an affair. I shouldn’t have handled the money the way I did.’”
The first time I saw Buck with a client, he and Duchon were conducting a pretrial meeting with a one-armed woman. Buck, dressed in his classic brownish office attire, sat quiet for much of the meeting as the woman and Duchon, who just turned 40 but seems younger, discussed real estate she and her husband owned, including a farm, and how she wanted it divided. In their good-lawyer/bad-lawyer routine—“It’s Abbott and Costello,” says Miroff—Duchon often plays the heavy, particularly when it comes down to numbers. Buck chimes in to add color, as when he explains that it’s “common for husbands to make offers early to stop the bleeding, to throw a high fastball under your chin to see if you’ll swing at it.”
At this meeting, where hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of real estate is on the table, the woman clearly shows more interest in keeping a few animals. She complains that her husband “was so wrapped up in doing what he thinks is going to make him happy, he let everything go at the farm.” Buck, with an impish grin, replies, “You mean men are allowed to think about what makes them happy?” “Well,” she says, “We’re doing what’s best for me, right? Because if so, he’s going to have to give up the dog.”
Before long, the conversation turns to the husband’s vacations with his girlfriend, which eventually leads Buck into one of his monologues—what Duchon, like a bored grandson, dismissively calls Buck’s “10,000 stories.” Buck apologizes in advance to Duchon, who rolls his eyes and looks down at the table, before launching into an anecdote about a former client, a doctor, who kept a zebra in the house.
They finally agree that the woman will have to hire a surveyor to figure out how best to divide the farm. Before walking out, she insists that I make note of how nice Buck is. “When I first met this man, he walked me, with my one arm, out to my car and carried my stuff,” she says. “Not even my husband would do that for me.” Buck beams and kisses her warmly on the check before escorting her out of the building.
He seems to have this effect on many women. Despite his tenacity in the courtroom, he is often called a teddy bear. Journalist Art Harris says that for much of Buck’s career, his reputation has “circulated throughout affluent society.” “Women have a good relationship with him, and those women talk,” says Harris. “Especially those who travel in that upper level.”
As though cultivating an image of honor and gentlemanly circumspection, Buck has a policy of not making house calls to women under 70 years of age. (He once had a 70-year-old client he visited, but only before noon, because that was the only time she was sober.) He uses old-time manners that, coming from someone else, might seem chauvinistic; from Buck, they seem like charming throwbacks to a bygone era. Duchon is often amazed at behavior he himself “would never get away with” but that Buck is loved for—the hugs, the “touchy-feely” encounters with clients, and the “kissy-face” with the court staffers where they try cases.
To many women who find themselves at an emotional low point when they end up in Buck’s office, his folksy charm and easy assurances provide a port in the storm. They get a new man in their lives, a confidant and trusted advisor—all for $275 an hour. This is particularly true of women who, having long been in the dark regarding marital finances, suddenly find themselves faced with having to figure out how much money their husbands might be trying to conceal, or how to get by without the husband’s paycheck.
Andrea Martin enlisted Buck’s services in her divorce from Ed Martin Jr., son of the car-dealership magnate and current head of the family business. (“I’ve had almost every major car dealer in the metropolitan area—and their wives,” Buck says.) To Martin, Buck was a godsend: “There are women Jim and Darryn represent who may be seen as privileged. But many of those women married men who acquired a lot of wealth during the marriage, while they raised the children. Typically, women don’t know about all the finances and the assets, and a lot of us go into Jim’s office totally unknowledgeable. But he was like a father figure.” She has since referred “a lot” of other women to him.
But Buck’s most famous female client—Resort Condominiums International co-founder Christel DeHaan—was hardly among the ranks of the financially clueless. When DeHaan and her husband, Jon, started their company in 1973, it was little more than a few time-share listings on index cards in a shoebox. When Jon filed for dissolution in 1987, however, RCI was worth millions, and the divorce soon became one of the most highly publicized in state history.
As Christel DeHaan’s attorney, Buck faced an uphill battle from the start, because she had signed a prenup that entitled her to take away only her personal assets and any gifts Jon had given her. It was up to Buck to prove that the agreement didn’t apply to RCI, which hadn’t existed when the prenup was written. Further complicating Buck’s task was the fact that judges at the time rarely, if ever, granted businesses to women in divorce disputes.
“The other side in that case was—well, the nicest way I can describe them is ‘haughty,’” says Buck. “Their position was, ‘We’re not going to give her anything. The most she can get is 20 percent. She’s a housewife and a mother.’ In Jon’s own deposition, I asked him, ‘Isn’t she a good person at the company?’ His remark was that she was ‘a good secretary.’”
In the end, of course, as many in Indianapolis are well aware, Buck methodically won virtually every point in Christel’s favor. First he convinced the court to separate her prenup from RCI. Then, with the help of a cadre of experts, the two parties wrangled over the company’s value. They were in court for 55 days, a marathon of a divorce trial.
Ultimately, it was Buck’s brilliant—if lucky—legal strategy that broke the impasse. Because Christel wanted the company, and because she thought the other side had underestimated its worth, Buck convinced her to establish the value in court by declaring herself a buyer or a seller at $135 million, twice what Jon insisted it was worth. “I thought the judge was going to fall off the bench,” says Buck. “It was a gutsy thing to do.” Christel also proved that she could get financing to buy out Jon’s half, at $67.5 million. The judge ordered the sale, Christel emerged triumphant, and the rest is history. Observers trumpeted the outcome as the largest divorce-trial award ever in Indiana. Christel was so pleased that, to celebrate the conclusion of the trial, she flew 34 of her family members and friends, including Buck and his wife, to a $700-a-night hotel in Paris.
Buck has worked divorces with higher stakes than DeHaan v. DeHaan—he figures, for instance, that more than $200 million was on the table in Hilbert v. Hilbert. And he has won cases, such as the Tomlinson prenup case, whose outcomes, from a strictly legal standpoint, were far more significant. But no one refutes that DeHaan was the defining case of his career. After bringing in more than a million dollars in legal fees and resulting in widespread notoriety, it allowed him to be even more selective about the cases he took. Perhaps more important, the case introduced the then-revolutionary idea that a divorced woman could make a bid for the family company—and win. The means by which Buck accomplished this—effectively turning the courtroom into an auction house—has come to be known in legal circles as the DeHaan strategy.
Although the victory solidified Buck’s reputation as a winner, some observers say it could easily have gone the other way. Harris, who covered the case, calls the outcome a “fluke.” Miroff, who faced off against Buck in Tomlinson, says that other judges would never have allowed Buck to open a bidding war in their courtroom, and that Christel “was lucky she had a judge who was less sexist than other judges might be.” The notion that a woman could take control of a business, he adds, “wasn’t new—it was just an idea whose time had come.” As with Tomlinson, it seems that Buck, for all his considerable talents, had again landed the right case at the right time.
For his part, though it may be an instance of legal gamesmanship, Buck credits DeHaan herself for the DeHaan victory, calling her “the most brilliant, cooperative client I’ve ever had.” The frequency with which he mentions the case, now nearly 20 years old, testifies to its impact on the rest of his career. His advocacy on DeHaan’s behalf, and on behalf of other women with prominently rich husbands, such as Louann Hilbert and Meg Irsay, has given him a reputation as a champion of women—this despite the fact that, by Duchon’s estimate, he and Buck have represented roughly as many men, most of whom are every bit as grateful. Buck, who once escorted a female client to the bank to open an account for the first time, doesn’t exactly reject the pro-woman reputation. This points up an interesting contradiction in a man who is both “old school,” as many colleagues call him, and quasi-feminist in advocating for female clients. “Jim is from a paternalistic world,” says Jim Reed, his former partner. “But he’s also a champion of the underdog.”
If the incongruity serves Buck professionally, it’s his personal, largely traditional view of marriage that seems to keep him above the fray—to insulate him from the neglect, cheating, bickering, and backstabbing that dirty the pages of his case files. He’s had cases in which men forced their wives into having three-way sex or into having sex with other men while they watched; he’s had cases in which gay men maintained marriages with wives only to hide their own sexuality. He says the daily dose of betrayals keeps Duchon cynical and unmarried, but it seems to have the opposite effect on him. True, Buck has seen too many marriages go to hell to be naive about the institution, and was himself divorced in the early ’60s (a bit of history he doesn’t volunteer without prompting). But in Jeri Buck’s view, “a lot of what he sees makes him appreciate me more.” Buck met Jeri in 1962, when she worked in the Marion County Clerk’s office. He describes her as a “10” and often refers to her simply as The Redhead. He raves about her cooking and wistfully recalls coming home one day to find her curled up on the sofa reading The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook. “She’s a natural redhead with a flashing temper. Do we have fights?” Buck clears his throat. “You bet. But she’s one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen, a great mother, and the best cook in the world.”
When Buck offers his own definition of a good marriage, it meanders around the importance of communicating and sharing. But his deposition of Jon DeHaan in DeHaan v. DeHaan indicates a more archaic set of values. Buck asked how Christel “functioned as a homemaker.” He asked whether “the house was generally kept clean during the marriage” and whether her cooking was “generally on an acceptable or better than acceptable basis.” He inquired into her baking ability and asked if she was a good mother. Then he turned the question on Jon.
“Were you a good father?” Buck asked.
“I tried to be,” was Jon’s reply.
“Did you pay too much attention to the business and not enough to the children, in your opinion?” Buck continued.
“Probably did,” said Jon.
“No further questions,” Buck concluded.
The irony is that Buck himself has practically lived at the office for close to 50 years, frequently spending late evenings and weekends working on cases. Filling out the lineup for his son’s Little League team, the last activity of the day, usually meant staying up late with a glass of wine the night before a game. Even in describing his own marriage, his career is a point of reference; to explain the marriage, he refers to a copy of Indiana Code 31-15-7-5, Section 5, which outlines how marital assets are to be distributed in the event of divorce. One highlighted sentence states that a judge must consider “the contribution of each spouse to the acquisition of the property, regardless of whether the contribution was income producing.” Buck’s point is that, although he’s the one who’s had to “go out and slay dragons,” if not for Jeri, there’d be no home to come home to. It’s only now, as his career winds down, and his two kids are grown, that he’ll be able to spend quality time there.
Now, as Buck prepares for a kind of semi-retirement, “He’s going to miss having people tell him how great he is,” says Jeri. “Wives don’t do that.” Buck, however, doesn’t see spending more time at home and taking long vacations in Florida as true retirement because, in between all the R&R, he still plans to try cases. That comes as no surprise to Duchon, who points out that his partner doesn’t seem to have any actual hobbies. As Duchon notes, the trophy fish on Buck’s office wall, though presumably the tokens of a fondness for angling, are in fact more than a decade old—which suggests that an old showman like Buck is, in the end, less interested in catching whoppers than telling them.