“In my core, it pains me to see inequity anywhere.”
Having practiced law for 40 years, Aladean observes that she is not a stereotypical lawyer: “I’m not a hustler, not a shrewd business operator.” She considers herself a lawyer as counselor who approaches legal problems so as to leave the “fewest wounds and without bankrupting a client with legal fees” so that she can “help restore faith in a sometimes demoralizing system where laws favor large economic interests above the common citizen.”
Aladean never intended to go into law. As an undergraduate student Aladean loved foreign languages and after graduation worked on a special project for the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, surveying the needs of the business community and airports. At the completion of the project, she was offered a permanent position as a secretary. She ended up “organizing them because they weren’t getting paid enough.” This act was “the spark for going to law school” in 1975 when women were “second class citizens who weren’t heeded, seen in front offices, and never in board rooms unless they were the accidental widow of a CEO.” Despite these obstacles, Aladean forged ahead.
Aladean considers herself a “champion of the underdog” whose “instincts always led me into these impossible situations.” She took on the cases no one else wanted, often pro bono. In her first five years out of law school, she argued a Writ of Mandate in front of the Indiana Supreme Court, filed a class action lawsuit for a group of farmers who were defrauded by a grain storage unit that sold their grain without their knowledge, and argued civils rights cases in the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals – all things that many lawyers go their entire careers without doing. Throughout all of this, Aladean was confronted with “blatant discrimination.” A few judges wouldn’t listen and were “programmed to nitpick.” Aladean had to work “three times harder” than her male peers simply to be seen as capable.
Currently she serves as the City Attorney for the city of South Bend. In addition to providing necessary legal services for the city she also serves as the city’s coordinator of Title VI (Civil Rights) and the Americans with Disabilities Act. She also serves as the lawyer for the Human Rights Commission. One of her goals with these positions is to help make “the city a model of inclusion.”
Aladean’s influence has been felt throughout the Michiana area as she has provided leadership in a variety of other capacities, including her service as President of the Women’s Political Caucus, Company Manager for the Southhold Dance Theater, President of the St. Joseph County Bar Association, Co-chair of the Indiana Association of Mediators, Federal Court Rules Committee and Magistrate Selection Committee. She also provides pro bono services monthly for the Free Friday program of the Volunteer Lawyer Network.
Aladean’s leadership throughout the community and her life embodies her philosophy of “I’m a different kind of lawyer. I try to do things in an alternative way. At my core I’ve always been a champion for the underdog, champion for injustice.
Information compiled from oral history collected by Michiana Women Leaders, Inc.
Aladean was a 2019 Celebrating Michiana Women Leaders honoree.