Counting Counties

As a lawyer, I have spent a fair amount of time in courtrooms. My state (Indiana) consists of 92 counties. Or, ninety-two counties, if you prefer. Each of those counties maintains a court system. One of the benefits of practice in the capital city which is in the geographical center of the state is that some clients have retained me to represent them in cases pending in other counties. How many? Funny you should ask.

At some point I started paying attention and tracking court appearances in distant counties, with the idea that one day I might create a framed state map with a case name and court appearance date for each of those counties. Some people collect pens, others collect spoons or shot glasses, but I collect court appearances in counties. A collection, I should add, that takes virtually no space and actually makes money rather than costs it.

I once thought this hobby of counting Counties was a little unusual, but then I read about some people who have made it a point to visit every single McDonalds restaurant in the U.S. I felt pretty normal after that.

Some of them were easy. At one time, rules permitted an automatic transfer to a contiguous county, so I quickly lost count of the number of appearances in my own county (Marion) and most of those nearby. And when a person’s practice involves people insured by the insurance policies issued by client insurance companies in my state, then the possibilities for are nearly endless. Or at least number up to ninety-2. – Because stuff happens everywhere.

Sometimes the experience has been less than enjoyable. Like the day I arrived at a distant court five minutes late. It was one of those hearings where my client didn’t really care what happened, but when the court sets a hearing, then ya just gotta be there. This was early in the days of cell phones, and I felt quite good when I called my office with a request to call the court and inform them of my ETA. I parked, ran to the building and up the stairs, and was surely a bit winded when I walked into the courtroom. The judge looked at me and said “We just finished. Any questions?” All I could muster was “Who won?”

Another time was worse, and was a display of what we call “the homer”. My client was an insurer who paid for damage caused by a cab driver in a county about a three hour drive from my office. The insurer hired me to sue the cab company in an the hope of reimbursement. On the appointed day for trial, I had my witnesses there and ready, and we waited. And waited. And waited. I found it odd that no witnesses were there for the cab company. That mystery was solved when the judge called both lawyers into the courtroom and announced that his schedule was simply not going to allow our case to be heard, and that it would have to be rescheduled. The mathematical explanation is that [Local lawyer + local company] > [Out-of-town lawyer + out-of-town insurance company]. At least in that locale.

I walked down the hall to the office in an attempt to get a new date. “We will send you a notice” was the reply. There was one weeklong stretch in the next three months that was going to be absolutely impossible for me, and I gave that information to the clerk. You can probably guess when the court set the follow-up hearing. It took about a half hour of telephonic begging and sweet-talking to get to the “magistrate” in charge of scheduling. In this all-time championship example of the homer, I was finally informed that the case could be moved. I was also informed that the local attorneys were really quite good and that perhaps my client should consider hiring one of them. Message received, and I quickly called my client and advised them to accept the pitiful offer that had been extended by the defense.

Most recently I added another geographic jewel – a county among the most distant from my office as is possible. This particular county is at the extreme southwest corner of the state and, until recently, was a horrible drive. An interstate highway (still partially under construction) has resolved that part, but I still decided to leave plenty early.

Traditionally, finding your destination in an unfamiliar county is simple – you head for the center of the city or town designated as the county seat and look for a courthouse dome. Because the courts are in the courthouse, of course. But larger counties have outgrown their traditional courthouses and have built buildings named all kinds of things. There are City-County buildings, County-City buildings, Government Centers, Justice Centers, Courthouse Annex’s and a bunch more that I am sure I will think of when I click the “Publish” button. The result is that finding the courthouse has become quite a challenge.

Like this day when I went to the largest building in the government complex (which all advance research suggested was correct) and was then told “You need to go to the other building”. After I had already emptied my pockets and cleared security, of course. And, of course, modern court buildings are all about efficiency and security, so a particular judge no longer controls a particular courtroom. Because that is inefficient. Which made it necessary to figure out where the hearing would be. There are “court rooms” and “hearing rooms” but we were set for the judge’s chambers – which turned out to be in one of those locked corridors which required checking in on an intercom. The process of locking the car to being in the right place took about 25 minutes. Because efficiency.

In the end, I didn’t really care because I get to check off another county from my list. I am now officially at 49. Which leaves 43 yet to go. My count should really be at 54, but some appearances came before I was keeping track, so the date and case name have been lost to time. Grumble. Maybe in the copious spare time that will accompany my future post-retirement life, I will be able to do some research and backfill those.

I may eventually need to relax my criteria to include counties where I have been involved in pending cases but which have not required a physical trip to court. Under this way of measuring I am probably somewhere in the range of 80-85 out of the 9-two. In either case, time’s a-wastin’ fer some long-distance lawyerin’.

24 thoughts on “Counting Counties

  1. A terrific hobby / collection!

    When I began my career, I worked statewide. Similar to you, I kept a map of all the counties I had visited for work reasons. Of the 114 counties (plus the City of St. Louis) in Missouri, I have been to all but one, the most southwestern. For the last ten years, I have been keeping a map of every state maintained route I have driven in the 18 counties I now have responsibility for.

    Unlike you, I have not been to the courthouse in my counted counties. However, a trip to visit the sheriff at the courthouse in Worth County (the smallest in the state in both size and population) made me aware of a state statute requiring the state to take over a county’s financial needs should the county go broke during the fiscal year. As he told me one February, “yep, we will be broke by mid-March. Then, I am going to order a new Crown Vic.” Next time I was there, I saw a new Ford at the courthouse.

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    • I love the Sheriff story. You have probably noticed in Missouri what I have noticed in Indiana – all of those separate counties have their own unique personalities. Some are very insular and don’t like outsiders. Others are warm and welcoming and make you think you might like to move there.

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  2. Well that`s an interesting and low cost thing to track. A nicely highlighted map would look good on the wall.

    My own pointless record keeping involves tracking my church guitar playing in a spreadsheet. I know that I`ve played 258 different songs in 75 church services since October 2017. The most frequently played song is What a Beautiful Name at 9 times. This information is not terribly useful, and interesting to nobody but me.

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    • That is actually quite interesting. I am amazed that over 4 years you have not had more overlap. Had I been tracking my own church’s music, I could imagine that the “greatest hits” would have been performed 50 times in that stretch. Our music involves the congregation singing (kind of) so new stuff is often not very popular. I am, as you might guess, on the other side of that issue.

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      • Yes, it’s true. Our worship coordinator has a thing for not repeating, so I’ve done 530 songs total, 258 different ones so that’s an average of just over 2 times each. I only play once or twice a month so on a church basis there is more overlap.

        I think she maybe has a secret project to sing every song in the book, and I’m quite sure she picks weird ones occasionally just to torture us.

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  3. This is a great example (and not, NOT being a wise ass), of making the mundane into something interesting, for all the posters here! I salute them for spicing up an otherwise “meh” statistic! Love all of this….

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    • I find quirky things like this fun when I hear of others doing it, so I decided to share. I love reading the comments on the things others have kept track of. Some I have known have tracked things like concerts attended, and the father of a colleague had been a WWII navy pilot and kept track of every bombing run he was on.

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  4. A topic close to my heart! I love Geographic Travel Goals (yes, there’s a name for such a thing), and keep track of all the counties I’ve ever visited (currently 1,364 out of 3,143 US counties). I even belong to a group of such likeminded people, called the Extra Miler Club. Membership gives you a quarterly newsletter full of people’s stories about visiting counties. Most are like me, and just like to travel various places, but others have more specific goals. I’ve never come across anyone tracking court appearances by county though, so you may be a trailblazer there.

    The Extra Miler Club has an annual convention (that piggybacks on a license plate collector’s convention… another geographic-themed hobby). I’ve never been to one of their conventions, but this year it’s being held about 200 mi. away in Hampton, Va., so I might just be able to attend.

    I started counting counties about 20 years ago when I lived in North Carolina, and I sat down on night with a blank map of the state and colored in all the state’s 100 counties I’d visited. Later on, to use up time on a dull weekend, I extended that project to the entire United States — making both a map and an Excel spreadsheet. I’ve kept up the project since then, and have also gotten one of my daughters interested counting counties. At age 12, she’s been to 877 counties. It helps that our family takes a lot of road trips.

    For anyone interested in charting their County visits, I highly recommend the website http://www.mob-rule.com . It was started by a County Counter named Marty O’Brien (his initials are MOB, hence the name), and it’s got a very user-friendly mapping feature, where users can create a free account, and then click the counties you’ve visited. If you go to the mob-rule.com website, and check the “User Scoreboard,” you’ll be able to see my map.

    Most people probably don’t understand the appeal of doing things like random recordkeeping of travels, but for those geographically-minded people who appreciate it, it’s good fun.

    Good luck in filling in all our Indiana counties!

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    • I am sure that if I relaxed my criteria to driving through one, I have hit every county at least once. With my tight criteria, it has gotten harder to add new ones because Courts have gotten into the habit of handling minor issues by telephone conference and more recently by Zoom. It’s not like the old days when I had a scheduling conference set in a Federal Court located in Vigo County (Terre Haute) where every one of the 4 lawyers in the case AND the judge all made the 90 minute drive from Indianapolis to Terre Haute to attend a fifteen minute hearing for getting a trial date and setting deadlines.

      I have been loose in one respect, which is that several counties have multiple courthouses or even multiple cities that contain courts. Hitting any single one of them counts for me.

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  5. My similarity to this is my tracking of how many US States I have been to. Including Puerto Rico, which is not a US State, but I have to count it because I have been there, and it is a US territory, colony, or possession,, I am at 32. I have been to many, several times over, and some only once. The corollary to this is that I count only 5 of ten (or eleven is it now?) Canadian provinces. To count, one has to actually step foot or drive a car on outside ground in the state, not including airport property. For that reason, Texas has not made the list yet.

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    • It is interesting that you have not hit all of Canada yet. I need to think about US states – we have been pretty good setting foot in states east of the Mississippi River, much less so west of there. I have to count my childhood trip to California to get anywhere at all in chalking up western states. I probably ought to think this one through, maybe I have hit more than I think I have.

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  6. I smiled at this. In College, my girlfriends and I had a map of America/World, we had FUN putting pins on the states/countries where men we met or dated came from. We each had a different color pin. Too bad back then we didn’t have cell phones, only cameras. We don’t have a picture of our map, it would have been fun to see it now and laugh about it. 🙂 Thanks for bringing back a memory. FUN to see your map/counties — YES, depending on your age, you might have to loosen up your criteria to mark of more counties OR start taking some ROAD TRIPS for fun. I can see a picture coming of YOU on the steps of one of the court houses pointing up the stairs to the building. DONE, one more marked off!

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    • Commenter TCShideler below did exactly that – he drove to and photographed every single courthouse in Indiana and wrote about it in a blog. Having been to so many of them, I found it riveting, but he included lots of local history that was all new to me and made it extra fun.

      And I love your ‘guy-tracking’ map! With as mobile as people have been in the last 75 years, you probably got pins from all over.

      Liked by 1 person

      • TCShideler had a great idea. I’ll read his comment. So, you’ve got to get more creative to mark off the 43 from your list. HEY, maybe with these counties find out what they like to eat or something.

        LOL – Actually, I think the kids now travel so much more than we ever did. Also the EU has opened the doors for kids to go to school anywhere within the EU and then many foreigners coming to America… much different from 40 years ago when I was at St Mary’s College in Notre Dame, IN. We didn’t have so many Int’l students. Crunch the numbers for how old I am. LAUGHING MY GOSH, I better dab my wrinkle cream on. 🙂

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  7. At least you don’t get high cholesterol eating at a McDonald’s in every county (even though you love fries and could start a new list representing fast food visits). That is impressive and they are not Zoom meetings, but in-person appearances!

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  8. A good friend and his high-school-age son made it to every MLB ballpark in the space of a couple of seasons. I like baseball, but not so much I’d watch a game in every stadium. Like BrilliantViewpoint, I spent four years up in St. Joseph’s County getting a college education. Glad to see you made it to that one, in the “South Bend” of the river of the same name.

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