Judge William J. Brune, 85, died September 12, 2013 at the VNA Charlier Hospice Center. He was born to Alois and Marie (Olminghof) Brune on July 28, 1928. His wife, Rosemary (Wilhelmus) Brune, whom he married on April 24th, 1965, in St. Benedict Church survives him.
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Growing up during the Great Depression, he learned early in life the necessity of developing a good work ethic. Upon his graduation from St. Boniface grade school in June of 1942, he began caddying at Helfrich golf course. In the summer of 1943, he set pins at the Franklin Bowling Alley. On his 16th birthday, he was hired in at Shane Uniform Co. on west Maryland St. The person who hired him was Otto Schnakenburg (who, many years late, became a close friend) who inspired him to go to college upon graduation from high school. It was an advice that he took seriously, and since his only source toward that end was upon himself, he began to work and save at every possibility. In the fall of 1946, upon graduation from high school, he entered Indiana State Teachers College (later to become Indiana State University) in Terre Haute, IN. Later, he would transfer to Indiana University where he attended until his financial resources ran out, and he took employment at Seeger Refrigerator plant in 1949.
In 1951, he was drafted into the army during the Korean war, and took his basic training at Fort Riley, KS. Upon completion of that training, he was sent to Fort Holibird, MD., to be trained as a counterintelligence agent. He served the remainder of his service tenure in the Korean war area. Upon his honorable discharge, he assisted his father in this appliance business on the west side, but when his father retired in 1956, he finished getting his undergraduate degree at Evansville College in 1958. He then, with the aid of the G.I. Bill of Rights benefits and working days as an insurance adjuster, entered the Indiana University Law School and graduated from its Indianapolis campus. He was admitted to practice law on May 2, 1962 and became a deputy prosecutor in Marion County, IN, the next day. Later, he was admitted to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, and the United States Supreme Court. In 1963, he returned to Evansville and began his law practice. In 1964, he was appointed deputy prosecutor, and in 1966, he joined James D. Lopp, Sr. in the law firm of Lopp and Brune. That year, he was also elected to the Vanderburgh County Council on which he served as its president in 1969-1970. During the campaign for Prosecuting Attorney in 1970, promising to be a full time prosecutor and try more jury trials, he was elected to that office. With a staff of only four part-time felony deputies and a chief-deputy, he and they tried sixty jury trials his first year - an increase of 52 over the previous year. During his first term he used the grand jury frequently to investigate violations of gambling, prostitutions, and pornography because he felt they had a negative effect in the community on the integrity of its governance. He also used it to investigate the use of drugs in elementary schools. He referred to the grand jury as the "conscience of the community." In early 1974, he initiated the first deferred prosecution program of its type in the United States after being disappointed when the traffic court judge refused to either place drunk drivers in jail or make rehab part of probation. Through his program, the prosecutor's office would hold in abeyance the filing of charges while the accused attended counseling classes. If the attendee successfully completed the course, charges were not filed. It was used for misdemeanor offenses such as first-time drunken driving, minor in possession of alcohol or some misdemeanor charges. The program was voided in the fall of 1976, by the appeals court, holding that prosecutors only got their authority from the state legislature, and that it had not given such authority. However, in its decision, the court, in a rare event, commended him by name for using imaginative programs to solve social problems. In its opinion, the court said, "...Mr. Brune is to be commended for initiating a program designed to aid in the rehabilitation of alcohol abusers." As a result of that opinion receiving state-wide notice, the state legislature the following year gave prosecutors the power to establish deferred prosecution programs. Previously, other states would allow their courts to establish the programs after charges were filed. His program was taken over by Vanderburgh Superior Court and was re-named the Drug and Alcohol Deferral Service (DADS). The opinion also legitimized the user fees to support other criminal justice drug rehab programs. He said his greatest reward was being approached by someone who did not know him, but was recognized by that person and being thanked for the program saving the person's life or marriage.
He always felt, however, that though his initiative played an important part in combating alcohol abuse, he credited the organization of "Mothers Against Drunken Driving" (MADD) as making the most important contribution to the significant reduction of alcohol related traffic deaths and injuries by its unrelenting efforts to bring the problem to the national scene.
After becoming a Vanderburgh Superior Court judge in 1977, he was asked to join and become president of the Southwestern Indiana Council on Alcohol Problems (SWICAP). In that position, he assembled representatives of the local universities and the EVSC, CEOs of many local companies of various interests, and held monthly breakfasts at which time, experts would address them on the problems of alcoholism and educate them on ways their companies could encourage the diminished use of the drug such as eliminating or, at least, limiting the use of alcohol at social events sponsored by the companies. They were also encouraged to establish in-house rehabilitative programs.
In 1983, while presiding judge, he worked with the Evansville Bar Association to develop a filing system for civil cases whereby each case when filed would be assigned to a specific judge by a blind draw. As a result of this change, the time for getting a civil case to trial went from four or five years to about one year.
He was proud of being a member and past-president of the West Side Nut Club. While president in 1969, he established the "Animal Crackers," a group of members dressed in various animal costumes who would entertain children in hospitals. He helped Dr. Vic Johnson develop its Photo Committee, and over-saw the acquisition of its first warehouse, and more importantly, the distribution of the Fall Festival proceeds to non-profit local institutions. He was especially proud that seven of his small staff of deputy prosecutors became Circuit or Superior Court judges, and that a larger number of his secretaries became court reporters. He retired as an active judge, January, 1999, and became a senior judge thereafter, and he also joined Charles Berger's law firm. He retired from senior judge thereafter, and as an active lawyer in good standing in 2012.
For many years he helped flip pancakes at the YMCA and also at the Wesselman Park pancake breakfasts at its annual pancake and syrup making days. The park program director said, "He is real good at it." He was a lifetime member of American Legion Post #8 and the Veterans of Foreign Wars Charles Denby Post 2953; a Kentucky Colonel; and an adviser and member of the Sigma Tau Gamma fraternity at the University of Southern Indiana. He also was an adjunct professor and taught constitutional law for nine years at that University; a former member of Central Turners; and member of the Board of Directors of the Evansville Kennel Club. While prosecutor, he and an investigator in his office flew to Atlanta to return a defendant charged in Vanderburgh county. Prior to getting his flying license, he drove a motorcycle, but gave that up because he felt it was more dangerous than flying.
He is preceded in death by his parents and sisters, Lois Marie Brune, and Isabelle Preske; brothers, Fr. James Brune, Paul and Thomas Brune.
In addition to his wife, he is also survived by sisters, Elizabeth O'Daniel, Omaha, NE, and Jeanette Knapp of San Pedro, CA, and many nieces and nephews.
A Mass in Celebration of Life will be held at 10:00 AM on Tuesday, September 17, 2013 at Holy Redeemer Catholic Church, 918 W. Mill Rd., Evansville, IN 47710 with Father Lowell Will con celebrating. Entombment will follow at St. Joseph Catholic Cemetery where military rites will be conducted.
Visitation will be held from 4:00 PM until 7:00 PM on Monday, September 16, 2013 at Browning Funeral Home, 738 Diamond Ave., Evansville, IN 47711 and again from 9:30 AM until Mass time at church on Tuesday. A rosary service will be held at 7:00 PM at the funeral home on Monday.
In lieu of flowers, it is requested that anyone wishing to honor his memory do so by contributing to the Tri-State Food Bank, 801 E. Michigan St., Evansville, IN 47711 or to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, 767 E. Walnut St., Evansville, IN 47713.
Condolences may be made online at www.browningfuneral.com.
Published in Courier Press on Sept. 17, 2013