Law in Popular Culture

Indiana Lawyer Who Started His Legal Career as a 17-Year-Old Judge Gets the World Record

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Indiana lawyer Marc Griffin has claimed the title once held by a Texas man: Guinness World Records has declared that Griffin holds the record for being the world’s youngest judge.

Griffin was an enterprising 17-year-old high school graduate in 1974 when he persuaded county commissioners to appoint him to fill a vacancy for justice of the peace. Griffin later won re-election to the job that included presiding over some civil and criminal cases, as well as performing weddings. “I was marrying people, throwing people in jail, and fining people,” he recalls.

Griffin managed to snag the job at such a young age because of his realization that his township had a long-time vacancy for a justice of the peace. The last justice of the peace had died some 50 years before, and the position was never filled. Cases for the township were being handled by other justices of the peace in the county.

“I discovered this justice of the peace thing,” Griffin recalled in an interview with the ABA Journal, “and I thought, ‘Wait a minute, we need another court and I’m qualified.’ ” He requested a meeting with the county’s three commissioners, and persuaded them to recommend his appointment. The state’s governor concurred and gave him his commission.

Griffin learned of the vacancy because of his interest in the law while still in high school. “I knew I wanted to be a lawyer,” Griffin says, “so I used to sit and read statutory law. Some people read novels, some people read sports magazines. I would just sit and read Indiana law.”

Speeding tickets were a big part of Griffin’s docket because the highway speed limit had recently dropped from 70 to 55 miles an hour. He held court at all hours of the night when police needed authority to lock up suspected domestic abusers. But it was the weddings he performed and an attorney general’s opinion that garnered national news coverage. Griffin was marrying people even though he was himself too young to marry without parental consent, a fact noted by critics.

The state attorney general opined that Griffin was too young to hold office. An Associated Press “fun-sy” story reporting on the decision questioned whether the people Griffin had married were “living in sin” because their weddings were illegal, Griffin says. The legal dispute was put to rest when a circuit court found Griffin qualified to hold office, paving the way for a short-lived judicial career.

The state eliminated justice of the peace courts a year or two later. Griffin finished his education and got a law degree from Indiana University School of Law. He has a niche practice representing banks and insurance companies that obtain liens on properties through tax sales.

Griffin contacted Guinness after he read an article at about a Texas man who held the record for winning election as a justice of the peace at the age of 18. Griffin supplied Guinness with evidence verifying his appointment at age 17, and learned last Thursday that he is the new world record holder. A press release dispatched to the ABA Journal the same day announced his achievement.

Griffin says in the press release that he contacted Guinness 37 years after the fact because he didn’t realize the publication covered judicial records. “I thought they were just records of stunts, like doing the most jumping jacks,” he says in the release.

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