Meet Vicki Carmichael, 2019 Most Admired Woman — Politics
Vicki Carmichael is the 2019 Most Admired Woman winner in the Politics category. Photo by Melissa Donald
Clark County Circuit No. 4 Judge
Family: Husband Lonnie Cooper; daughter Cleneth Lumenario
Area of town: Jeffersonville, Indiana
Being a judge can make a person very cynical, but Vicki Carmichael tries to remember the successes she sees to keep her spirits buoyed. As much as she appreciates a thank you, she reminds people that they did the hard work. “I gave you the tools and resources; you did it yourself,” she says. The nurturing compassion she brings to the bench sets her apart and often makes her feel like the “mom” of the courtroom.
What motivates you?
I’m motivated by the people I see in court who overcome struggles, addiction, and life’s challenges. I’m motivated by my husband, my daughter, my mother, and siblings; those people who walk with me and support me.
What is the best thing about your job?
Adoptions. That’s always the fun day in court. We also do a ‘toy adoption’ every year. We open up to the community, and kids can come in and adopt their toys and dolls that they got for Christmas. The happiness and joy that come with real adoptions are fun because you’re completing families, and that’s a really neat thing to do. My husband and I adopted our daughter, so adoptions are special.
What are the challenges of your job?
The administrative tasks — dealing with staff and budget issues. If I could sit on the bench all day and be a judge, that would be great, but it doesn’t work that way.
What was your “aha” moment?
I was in 7th grade, and we took a field trip to the courthouse. My history teacher’s brother-in-law was a judge at the time. We went into a courtroom, and we saw a case. I was just fascinated. I went home and told my parents: “I know what I want to do. I want to be a lawyer. I want to be a judge. I want to be on the Supreme Court. And maybe even the first woman president.”
How do you show gratitude in your life?
Being fully present when I’m with someone and doing little things to say thank you. I have a condo in Florida, and I took my staff down for a weekend (they paid for their own airfare). We did an escape room and ax-throwing, which I highly recommend. It was a way to say thank you to my staff.
In what ways has your life been different from what you imagined?
Professionally, I always knew what I wanted to do and did it. But I never expected to have a daughter. I never thought about getting married; I was more career-focused than anything. My husband, at 60, spent 27 months in the Philippines working in an orphanage. I went down to visit a couple of times and Cleneth was one of the girls in the orphanage. We talked to her and decided to sponsor her to come to the U.S. to get a college education. Once she got here, we also formally adopted her. She was 19 when she moved here. That has been a life-changing experience.
What has surprised you about being a judge?
Going through law school, they teach you research, case law, statues, and you see the black and white letter of the law. But when you get into the courtroom, you realize there is a lot of gray, and there is no black and white. I was a public defender for 12 years before I became a judge, and I thought sentencing people to prison would be very difficult. It’s not, which surprised me.
What verb best describes you?
Laugh. People tell me they can hear me laughing all the way down the hall.
What makes you lose track of time?
Sitting and talking to old friends. I don’t do it often enough.