Viola J. Taliaferro Death, Obituary – The Law School mourns the death of Judge Viola J. Taliaferro, a trailblazing Monroe County jurist and renowned advocate for its children, who died on Monday, June 12 in Bloomington. Taliaferro, a 1977 graduate of Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law, entered the legal profession later in life, but made an immediate—and lasting—impact on her community.
Taliaferro had already had a successful career in public service by the time she started law school at the age of 44. She graduated from high school at 14 and had an undergraduate degree from Virginia State University by the time she was 19. Taliaferro began her career as a Supervisor of Admissions at Tuskegee Institute of Alabama, followed by a position at Howard University Medical School.
She followed her husband George’s historic career as a professional football player (he was the first African American drafted by a National Football League team) to Dallas, Los Angeles, and Baltimore, where she became a teacher and administrator with the Baltimore Public School system. Viola Taliaferro graduated from Johns Hopkins University with a Master of Liberal Arts degree in 1969.
She and George had four children by then, and the family moved back to Bloomington, Indiana, where George had played for the Indiana University Hoosier football team, in 1972. She enrolled in law school three years later. After getting her JD, she went into private practice, focusing on family and criminal law. Taliaferro was appointed as a Monroe Circuit Court Magistrate in 1989 and as a judge of the Monroe Circuit Court VII in 1995, where she remained until her retirement in 2004.
Taliaferro shone brightest on the bench, where she could be as severe and comforting as a southern grandmother. Those who stood before her were used to being chastised for having done something that required them to appear before a juvenile court. But underlying the severe remarks was a profound concern for their well-being and future.
“She could dress them down, but she always respected the kids who found themselves in her court,” said Maryann Williams, a local attorney who worked for decades with the judge.
She believed that all children should be heard and that there was always a reason why they had gotten into trouble.”
Those she assisted were left with a lasting impression of her sternness and empathy.
“We couldn’t go shopping without meeting someone who told her she saved their life or was there for them when they needed it,” Williams added.
Taliaferro’s name was given to the Law School’s Family and Children Mediation Clinic in 2008. Amy Applegate oversaw the clinic for many years and became close to the judge after moving to Indiana in 1998.
“I knew she was the most extraordinary judge I’d ever met right away,” Applegate remarked. “She had an excellent legal mind and a genuine concern for children and their families.” Even when she ruled against the parents of a kid, everyone understood why. She was one of our most brilliant stars.”
Taliaferro was a practicing attorney when Williams first encountered him while clerking for a small law firm. Williams attended a deposition in Taliaferro’s office with one of her colleagues. The courts were closed since it was Columbus Day. “I’d never met her before,” stated Williams. “But I was so taken with her that I remember leaving her office and feeling something draw me back.” “I knew you were going to come back,” she said.
Taliaferro gave her a position as a clerk after they talked for a long time. But what made her change her mind that day? “There was just something about her,” remarked Williams. “I wish I could pinpoint it.” It was her advocacy, the questions she posed in her depositions.” Taliaferro ended up assisting Williams with her Bar exam preparation and was present when she passed.
She pushed me to do things I never thought I could do,” Williams says. “She was always pushing to make sure you were better.” Williams took on many of her previous customers when Taliaferro was appointed to the bench.
“‘What is it about Vi that makes her so special?’ I asked them all.” According to Williams. “They said, ‘When she was fighting for us, it didn’t matter whether we won or lost.
It was the fact that she was battling for us.”Judge Taliaferro was 94 years old.