The first Circuit Court Judge was Elza A. McMahon who served from 1852 through 1855.
Prior to the formation of the 10th Judicial Circuit, McMahon had served as a Prosecuting
Attorney and Judge of the Allen Circuit Court. He lived in Fort Wayne, having arrived
from Ohio about 1845. He was about 42 years of age when he became a Judge and was
unmarried. He was regarded as a fair lawyer, high minded, and pleasant as a Judge.
Although delicate in health, and occasionally melancholy, he was at times witty
and fond of humor. In 1855 after leaving the bench, he traveled to Rochester, Minnesota.
Rochester was a new community at that time. McMahon served as Prosecuting Attorney
and President of the local bar association. It was reported that he became a mental
wreck and traveled, along with a few others, to Leon County, Florida in 1876, where
he became an acting District Judge. He died in Tallahassee, Florida on September
James L. Worden served as Circuit Court Judge from 1855 through 1858. He had been
a Prosecuting Attorney. He was born in 1819 in Massachusetts and was one of the
early residents of Noble County. It is reported that from the time he first pitched
his tent here, his course had been steadily upward. He served three years as Prosecutor
and was appointed Judge. In January 1858, he resigned and ultimately became a Judge
on the Indiana Supreme Court. He later served as Mayor in Fort Wayne and again sat
on the Supreme Court. It is written that his decisions were quoted “ wherever the
principles of the common law prevailed.” He was described as “quiet and unassuming
in his manners, calm, and deliberate in his judgment, and was generally correct
in his conclusions.”
Rueben J. Dawson was appointed by the Governor in January 1858. He was born in 1811
and had moved from Fort Wayne to DeKalb County, where he platted the Town of Spencerville
and surveyed much of Noble and LaGrange Counties. He served in both branches of
the legislature prior to being appointed Judge of the Circuit Court. During his
term Noble County suffered from many horse thieves and counterfeiters. Dawson couldn’t
be intimidated. He held court in Albion soon after the Regulators had hanged Gregory
McDougall. Regulators planned to challenge the court’s authority, but Dawson proved
equal to the emergency. Described as “faithful, conscientious, energetic, pure,
impartial and efficient,” Dawson resigned for health reasons and died in 1859.
Edward R. Wilson served from 1858 through 1864. He was a young man at the time of
his election, residing in Bluffton. He was described as impulsive and quick to form
his conclusions, yet his decisions generally stood the test in the Supreme Court,
best evidence that he was correct. He was a popular officer, and yet from his peculiar
temperament, was liable to make warm friends or bitter enemies He had served as
Prosecutor and when elected Judge at the age of 32 enjoyed the distinction of being
the youngest judge in the state, presiding over the largest judicial circuit therein.
He was later elected to a term as State Senator and died in Bluffton in 1879.
R. Lowery served from 1864 through 1867. He was born in Ireland and resided in Fort
Wayne after beginning his practice of law at Goshen. He was recognized as one of
the best attorneys in the state and later became a Judge of the Allen Superior Court
in 1879. Lowery was the first president of the Indiana Bar Association. He served
two terms in Congress beginning in 1882. Lowery “gives the question of the day that
calm, judicial examination which only a trained intellect can bestow.” Noble County
was removed from his judicial district in 1867.
S. Tousley has the distinction of serving twice as our Circuit Court Judge. His
initial term was 1867 through 1872 and later from 1876 to 1882 when the judicial
circuits were reorganized. Tousley was born in New York in 1821, later became a
resident of Albion, and was probably as well known as any one living in Albion.
He attended I.U. and had been identified with the interest of our county. He served
as Clerk prior to his appointment in 1867. He had a “remarkable, retentive memory
and as a scholar of history has few equals.” He became paralyzed in 1880 and served
I. Best of DeKalb County served from 1872 through 1876. He “discharged the duties
of the position in a manner at once credible to himself and acceptable to his people.”
His business interest, however, required his attention at home and he resigned the
office. He was later employed by the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railroad Company
as attorney, formed the DeKalb Bank, and owned a flour mill in Waterloo. From 1881
through 1885 he was appointed as one of the commissioners to assist the judges of
the Indiana Supreme Court. He moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota and practiced law
with his son until his death in 1919.
Joseph A. Woodhull served in part during part of the year 1876,
until the district was reformed and Hiram S. Tousley again became Judge. Born in
1828 in New York, he moved to Michigan and attended Michigan Central College at
Spring Arbor. He began reading medicine in Fremont, but soon changed to law. Woodhull
served as a Legislator in 1861, prior to his judicial appointment in 1876. Woodhull
died in 1912.
Robert W. McBride served from 1882 to 1888. Prior to that, McBride
had the distinction as serving as a personal bodyguard to President Abraham Lincoln.
McBride is mentioned twice in Carl Sandburg’s biography of Abraham Lincoln and himself
wrote a book, published in 1911. In 1866 McBride returned to Waterloo and began
studying law. After serving as our Circuit Court Judge, he moved to Elkhart and
practiced there for a short period of time before becoming a Justice on the Indiana
Supreme Court. He passed away in Indianapolis in 1926 at the age of 84. He is pictured
both in his Civil War uniform and as a Supreme Court Justice.
Stephen A. Powers served as Circuit Judge from 1888 through
1889. His family migrated from New York to Steuben County. Born in 1851, Powers
was a scholar and his obituary noted that during his term as judge, he “tried and
disposed of many of the most noted and important cases ever tried in this court.”
When he retired from office, he took with him the “respect, confidence and esteem
of all that knew him, and universal commendation for his honesty, fairness, and
conscientious regard for the right.” He served as a state senator and when he died
in 1913, it was said that “this world has been made better by and through Stephen
A. Powers and his having lived in it.”
Joseph W. Adair served from 1889 through 1908. While he was born
in Noble County in 1843, his father was born in Ireland and came to America in early
childhood. Judge Adair attended Wabash College and studied law, resulting in his
admission to the Whitley County Bar in 1869. It was reported that there was seldom
a case of any import in which he did not appear either for plaintiff or defense.
He appeared for a defendant, Dr. Gotwald of Springfield, Ohio, charged with preaching
and teaching doctrines contrary to the accepted creed of his church, facing a charge
of heresy. He served one year as superintendent of the Whitley County Schools, was
Mayor of Columbia City, and was described as an “able, brilliant, and honest lawyer.”
Judge Adair served as the first circuit court judge in the current Noble County
Luke H. Wrigley was born in Richmond, Indiana, in 1856. He studied
law in Richmond and was admitted to the Wayne County Bar in 1879. He located in
Albion in 1881 and served as Judge from 1908 to 1920. Judge Wrigley was well respected
and exhibited a keen sense of humor from the bench. He was a moving force behind
establishing a Carnegie Library in Albion. Wrigley died in Albion in 1946.
Arthur F. Biggs served from 1920 to 1931. Born in Kosciusko County in 1866, he was
the son of Kosciusko Circuit Court Judge Hiram Biggs in Warsaw who served there
from 1896 to 1904. Arthur Biggs attended Michigan University. Prior to his election,
he practiced law with his father in Warsaw. He moved to Ligonier and became the
attorney for Straus Bros. until elected judge. He loved baseball, served during
Prohibition, facing many moonshine cases. Stories reflect that he had a sympathetic
heart for the down and out. Judge Biggs died in 1931, while serving his second term
George L. Foote was appointed in 1931 to fill the last 16 months
of the unexpired term of Judge Biggs. Born in 1867, Foote had practiced in Albion
and served as County Clerk. Prior to that, he was a Captain in 1916 in the Mexican
Border War and also served in World War I. After filling out the judicial term,
he returned to practice in Albion until his death in 1945.
Rob R. McNagny, son of a Congressman, served as the last joint
circuit court judge from 1932 to 1938. Born in Columbia City in 1884 he attended
Wabash College and graduated from the Chicago Art Institute. He joined his father’s
law firm, yet remained an accomplished artist and author. A dashing and beloved
figure, McNagny died in 1974.
In 1939 Noble County became its own judicial circuit. Fred L.
Bodenhafer was elected Judge and served until 1950. Born in 1876, Bodenhafer lived
in Kendallville and was up in years when elected. He was known to be short tempered,
pointed, but a keen legal scholar. He had little use for attorneys he regarded as
less intelligent than he. Bodenhafer had served in the General Assembly in 1905.
He died in 1952.
A. King was elected in 1950 and served until 1962. Born in Somerset, Indiana in
1912, he attended IU Undergraduate and Law School. He moved to the Rome City area
prior to becoming judge. King often bragged he had knocked on every door in the
county and won election easily. He presided over the highly public trial involving
the embezzlement of funds from the Noble County Credit Union and the formation of
the current public school districts and appointment of school board members. The
school consolidation issue was very emotional and divisive and Judge King believed
this issue caused him to lose his bid for re-election.
Judge King died February 17, 2016 at the age of 103 and is buried at Mississinewa Memorial Cemetery in Wabash.
John C. Hagen served from 1963 through 1974. Born in Morocco,
Indiana in 1919, John attended Indiana University and was a life long fan of their
football and basketball teams. John also coached American Legion baseball. Judge
Hagen always believed that there was good in everyone and he attempted to bring
out that good, if possible. He had a keen sense of humor and was universally liked
and respected. Hagen later practiced in Syracuse until his death in 1995. It was
written that all will miss “his sunny smile, infectious wit, kind heart and good
Robert C. Probst has the distinction of servicing the longest
time on the bench, from 1975 through 1998. He graduated from Valpo Law School and
practiced with his father. During his tenure the courtroom was reversed from the
south side to the north side, two Superior Courts were added and the caseload grew.
Judge Probst became one of the most beloved and respected judges in the state, having
a reputation of honesty and fairness. Adjoining counties often venued cases to Judge
Probst. His strong faith and devotion to his family gained him great respect in
the community. Born in Kendallville, Indiana in 1934, he survives today.
David Laur assumed the bench in 1999, having served as Noble County Prosecutor from
1975 to 1998. He is the longest serving elected official in Noble County history.
Born in 1947 in Hudson, Michigan, he graduated from high school in Holgate, Ohio
in 1965, attended undergraduate and law school at The Ohio State University and
passed the Indiana Bar in 1972.
While Prosecutor, he obtained a death sentence verdict for the murderer of Avilla
Town Marshall William Miner in 1983. Laur was also instrumental in obtaining convictions
for child neglect against Faith Assembly members whose children died when members
failed to seek medical attention.
In 2002, Judge Laur spearheaded the renovation of the Circuit Courtroom and assembled
the photos and biographies of the former judges. He created the Noble County Courts
Webpage, with links. In 2013, Judge Laur headed the formation of the Community Corrections
program, used to monitor and rehabilitate low risk offenders.
Note: Prior to the creation of judicial circuits, there were judges appointed by
the Governors of Indiana.
Gustavus A. Everts
Samuel C. Sample
Charles W. Ewing
Dudley H. Chase
John W. Wright
James E. Borden
Thomas H. Wilson
David S. Simons
Horatio M. Slack
Henry R. Burnam
Common Pleas Judges
James C. Bodley
Sanford J. Stoughton
William M. Clapp