Powerhouse Attorney: The cases and cars of Jim Voyles

Jim Voyles has defended many high-profile clients in Indiana.
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He's recognized as one of the most powerful attorneys in Indiana, representing a "who's who" of clients facing serious crimes. But while Jim Voyles may have a reputation for not talking during cases, he is happy to talk about his passion outside the courtroom.


Voyles has an impressive fleet of 15 cars parked in garages at his home in Zionsville. They are sleek, regal and built for speed. One of his favorites is a 1932 High Boy Hot Rod with a 350 Chevy engine.

"I love it because it takes me back to my high school days. I wish to heck that I had that in high school," said Jim Voyles. 

Voyles has a couple of Porsches, including a 2005 Turbo that he said has the most power in his impressive collection.

"As soon as the turbo comes on, it's a handful," said Voyles.

He owns a 1958 Bentley that he drives downtown for dinner and a 1999 355 F1 spider Ferrari.  

"I take it out in the evenings. When I get home and when I've got stuff on my mind, it's a mind-cleaner," said Voyles. "I started acquiring cars probably 20 years ago. We finally have a home where we can display them where I can work on them. I'm torn between when I'm in my hot rod or whether I'm in a Ferrari. They're moveable art for me. When you look at them, the lines, the sounds they make, the engine, I routinely go to automobile races across the country. Have lots of friends in automobile racing."

Voyles represents the rich. The powerful. The famous. Clients who often pay $600 an hour for his legal advice, which begins with two simple words.

"I hand out a card to all my clients saying 'stop talking.' When they get my business card, they get one of these (cards that say stop talking). There's a reason for that. I spend time undoing a lot of things they've said. People will say things about their event and they may not have all the details. They just want to immediately start explaining themselves. Give it a chance to settle down," said Voyles, who has a reputation for practicing what he preaches outside the courtroom.

"I don't do interviews. Don't talk to the media," joked Voyles. "I think my job is to stay out of the spotlight. I think my job is to represent my client and come here where I'm very comfortable and do my work. Our obligation as lawyers is to confine our work inside the courtroom. We certainly have a disciplinary rule that deals with conversation outside the courtroom. I always think it's so much simpler to say I don't have anything to say. I'll be polite but I want to do what I'm supposed to do inside the courtroom."

Now, Voyles is talking openly about his career as a defense attorney.

"Everybody wants to have their case dismissed. Everybody wants to be found not guilty. That's impractical," said Voyles. 

Even though many of Voyles' high profile cases took place inside Indiana courtrooms, one of most successful verdicts happened out of state. He successfully defended a murder suspect in New Jersey.

"The Danny Tunks verdict of not guilty on the seven charges of murder and conspiracy to commit murder that I tried in Hackensack, New Jersey in 2010, was a pretty good victory," said Voyles.  "I was there a long time. Tried it front of a group of very dedicated jurors. They were with us for four months. We started in September and ended three days before Christmas.

"I had a great co-counsel, Pat Jennings. It was a perfect storm. The jury was out for an entire week before they returned the verdict. It was hard fought, it was a difficult case. (Danny) was so grateful. He had been in jail two years before we tried the case. Just going through that process, spending two years in jail before your case is heard is tough. He lives in Greenwood. Got his life back. He's successful. Happy, married, has a child."

Voyles doesn't mind discussing the cases that did not go his way.

"I've lost a lot of cases. I'm competitive. Try not to show it, but I am very competitive," said Voyles. "Every time a lawyer loses, you've let down your client. You've been rejected. The jury's rejected you. Sometimes you've taken it personally. You shouldn't, but you do. My partner Denny Zahn said it best. We try not to get too low on our losses and try not to get too high on our wins."

Perhaps his most high profile case was the 1992 Mike Tyson rape trial. Voyles served as the local counsel for Washington DC attorney Vince Fuller.

"I was disappointed in the Tyson verdict," said Voyles. "I think I was disappointed for Mike. I thought a lot of him and still do. So, I was just disappointed in that regard. I would say Mike is very unknown to the general world. Mike and I clicked for whatever reason. That bond has stayed over the years when he was just in town. He's very happy. I haven't seen him as happy as I saw him that night.

Vince (Fuller) had been hired by Don King. Vince's position was he had to be in charge of the whole case - all aspects of the case and he was. I helped when I could. Vince might have never connected to the jury. (Prosecutor) Greg Garrison is very gregarious, very personable. I think from day one, Greg was able to ingratiate himself to the jury. They liked him. They believed in him. That's the key. Once you have that ability to tell the jury, you can trust me, I'll lead you through this difficult path, and they did. I don't think Vince was able to carry that off for whatever reason.

"I thought Tyson had a great defense on a number of levels, from certain evidence items that happened that night plus my view of certain things. I think it would have been an interesting case if the jury had heard the case the way I saw the case," said Voyles.

Voyles calls the 1977 murder of millionaire Marjorie Jackson one of his first high-profile cases.

"We represented a gentleman by the name of Howard Willard who had been accused of that homicide along with Manual Robinson. I was brought in to that case by a lawyer from Tampa, Florida - Henry Gonzalez. It was a very difficult case because Howard had maintained a series of events that were improbable involving his conduct. The jury pretty much saw through that," said Voyles. "Unfortunately, we didn't have much of a defense because the common law wife of Mr. Willard, who was with him, testified against him and kind of laid out the whole process. Howard didn't follow advice of counsel and decided to take the witness stand against our advice and laid out a series of events that he thought could persuade the jury that he wasn't involved. They just didn't believe it."

Voyles has represented a number of Indiana sports stars including former Pacers player Stephen Jackson.

"I first met Stephen in the Pacers-Pistons brawl. Steve was a great client. Very gregarious guy. Very smart. Very loyal. He was so loyal to Ron Artest - World Peace now - he went to his aid in the stands and got him in trouble as well," said Voyles. "I consider (Jackson) one of my favorite clients in terms of his ability to interact with me and deal with all the issues he had. When he got into the incident out at the club on West Washington Street, he was really kind of the victim. They had left the club with a bunch of people. A bunch of people had come after them. And Steve, matter of fact, had Steve leaped out of the way, fired his weapon as a result of being in fear, and testified against the person who had driven the car, pretty much the defense was built upon self-defense."

Voyles represented former Colts running back Dominic Rhodes. 

"Dominic is another wonderful guy. Dominic had been accused of a drunk driving situation. And we were able to resolve that with the prosecution. Clearly, we think the evidence was pretty weak on that case with Dominic. I always enjoyed him. He was a terrific running back with the Colts and just a terrific person," said Voyles.

Voyles also represented former Pacers guard Jamaal Tinsley.

"One of my partners, David Deal, was successful in representing him in that shooting that happened in front of the Conrad (Hotel). That was a civil case. Then, we were involved in the 8 Seconds Saloon situation with Jamaal. As I said, I've always had wonderful relationships with my clients," said Voyles.

Voyles represented Colts punter Pat McAfee. 

"The community has come to adore Pat McAfee and rightfully so. When I represented Pat, he was alleged to have done a little after-night swimming in the Broad Ripple canal. When I first met him, the first thing he said to me was 'My mother is going to be very ashamed of me' and that told me a lot about Pat. He goes out of his way to do wonderful things for the children in the community. Very personable. Very enjoyable guy to be around," said Voyles.

Voyles has a longtime friendship with basketball coach Bob Knight, who he represented in a severance dispute with Indiana University.

"I did a little bit of legal work for Bob in the beginning a few years ago and we've become personal friends. He stays in our house when he comes to town. He's been really kind to me. He's done speaking engagements for the bar association where I wanted him to do. I took him over to my college. He did a fundraiser for me in Illinois. We've had a wonderful relationship. He's a very kind and very bright guy and very enjoyable," Voyles said.

Voyles was the defense attorney when former Colts quarterback Art Schlichter faced serious gambling charges.

"I liked (Schlichter) personally. He had terrible demons and they continue to follow him with the gambling," said Voyles.

Voyles represented former Colts player Steve Muhammad.

"Steve was interesting. Steve was a true Muslim. There were facts in that case, his wife had died, unfortunately after the situation where she had driven her vehicle into a light pole in a parking lot, and in the course of delivering the baby, she was pregnant at the time, and I think people tried to connect the situation like that, which was totally separate. We referred that case out to a personal injury lawyer to pursue on behalf of Mr. Muhammad," said Voyles.

When Indiana State University professor Dr. Robert Little was accused of murder, Voyles helped get an acquittal.

"Cleary he wasn't involved, that Larry Eyler was the witness against him, had committed that crime by himself," said Voyles. "That was a case that my partner, Denny Zahn, did a spectacular job of cross-examining the state's chief witness in the case we tried in Newport, Indiana. Dr. Little was a wonderful guy. A guy the jury in that small town was able to clearly indicate was not guilty. He wasn't involved. Larry Eyler, the witness against him, committed that crime by himself."

Voyles represented Karl Uban, who was accused in his wife's death. 

"The Uban case was a fascinating case on a gentleman who was falsely accused. We were successful in that case. We tried it over in Bloomington, Illinois. I had a fabulous co-counsel from Peoria, Timothy Penn. It was a hard fought case. I had some excellent help. I have a great investigator - Bill McCallister. Bill was able to find for me an intake manifold off a '61 Chevrolet that I needed for a demonstrative for the jury," said Voyles. "We had great medical people, Dr. (Steven) Nawrocki, Dr. Mike Clark who was a forensic pathologist. That's kind of a fascinating part of my job. I got to learn a lot about forensic science, anthropology and pathology. It was a great experience. Our defense was he had been falsely accused - that the view of our anthropologist over there was the fracture in the hyoid bone had been caused naturally and was not the result of any kind of strangulation or any kind of malfeasance on his part."

After the infamous 1996 downtown brawl involving civilians and police, Voyles represented Indianapolis officer Paul Tutsie.

"Mr. Zahn and I represented Paul Tutsie. We tried it for 4-5 weeks. The jury was unable to reach a verdict in all the cases that we tried in front of them. And ultimately, we were able to resolve the matter later," said Voyles.

Over the course of his career, Voyles acknowledges that he has represented a client even if he knew the person was guilty. 

"Merely because you have a conversation with somebody that they may have some involvement doesn't preclude them from an absolute defense," said Voyles. "There's always an allegation that somebody has made against somebody. Our job is to hold the government and the state to the burden of proof. Their burden is to prove beyond a reasonable doubt and our job is to hold them to that. To make sure they have the proof necessary."

Voyles would not disclose the identity of any client.

When he leaves the stress of the courtroom, there is nowhere Voyles would rather be than with his cars and his family. Voyles is married to a woman who shares his passion for cars and racing. Voyles and his wife Joan have six children and 21 grandchildren.

Voyles says he never thinks about his cases on the road. The only thing on his mind is driving and going fast, especially in his Ferrari.

"The car is very responsive. Lots of power. So, when you make a decision to do something, the power's there to back it up," said Voyles who acknowledges he is a gear head.

Look around Voyles' basement and you will see how much he loves racing and the men who drive fast for a living.

"This is the picture that Dario Franchitti gave me after he won the (Indy) 500 two years ago," said Voyles.

Voyles' love for auto racing began as a boy when he dreamed of becoming a racer.

"When I told my dad that I thought about it my dad said, you're going to law school. That's it. That's what I did," said Voyles.

Voyles uncle, George Ober, helped put together USAC and fueled his passion for auto racing and law. Voyles has only missed one Indianapolis 500 since 1953.

"I like the speed. I like the competition. I like the engineering. It just fascinates me. I grew up in an era where we worked on cars, we talked cars, we played with cars," said Voyles. 

Voyles has represented former Indy 500 winner Al Unser Jr. in a 2002 domestic battery case.

"One of my heroes. As a race fan, I've always admired his talents as a race driver. And again, another guy who did exactly what I asked him to do and post my representation, I would see him at the racetracks, he'd go out of his way to say hi and spend a little time with me. Very kind, signed autographs, just a really wonderful guy."

Voyles downplays his own success. When asked for the secret of being a successful defense attorney, Voyles' answer is simple.

"I have no idea. Any attorney will tell you the hard work, the preparation, the nights at the office, the weekends, those are the determining factors of how you're going to be able to present your case. There's a tremendous amount of great lawyers in this town that do exactly what I do. Rick Kamman, Bob Hammerle, Dick Kiefer, Dennis Zahn, Jennifer Lukemeyer, Jess Paul, Fred Vaiana. There's just a whole lot of great lawyers," said Voyles.

When former Marion County Republican party chairman John Sweezy faced serious charges, Voyles was the defense attorney.

"John was in a difficult situation. Here he was, the head of the Republican Party, and John was accused of having improprieties with a grandchild. Turns out, it was absolutely false. We did it with great investigative work. Young woman had said she was on his lap watching a particular movie. But it turned out the movie wasn't even out at the time that the incident supposedly happened," Voyles said. "I had not known John before I was called to represent him and when I went into his office, I had to advise him, ‘I'm a Democrat, John.'  And he said, ‘I know that'. I said, ‘Us Democrats have to come help you Republicans.'"

At age 70, Voyles still puts in 80-90 hours a week, preparing cases for clients often facing heinous crimes.

"It's easy to represent the banker, someone who's the most popular in town. It's harder to represent the person everybody dislikes," said Voyles. "We're attorneys for the misunderstood, so I've always carried that motto around that it's a misunderstanding with the police, the government, or whoever it may be at the time."

Voyles helped Bill Simpson file a lawsuit against NASCAR after the death of Dale Earnhardt. 

"Bill's one of the true geniuses that I've ever represented. In automotive safety areas. And with that comes an interesting personality. We represented along with a great lawyer from Wyoming, Bob Horn and I, we sued NASCAR after the death of Dale Earnhardt on the allegation that they had defamed Bill because Bill was the producer of the seat belt that Earnhardt used," said Voyles. "They were personal friends. They hunted together. They did all kinds of things together. Bill was deeply crushed on Earnhardt's death. He himself got death threats. We reached out to NASCAR ultimately and said, 'We're gonna have to do something about that.' So, we sued them and we were able to resolve it. We sued them here in Federal court and finally resolved it before the Brickyard in that year," said Voyles.

Voyles has no plans to retire, saying he will work another 10 years and is quick to praise his staff.

"I've got five women that have been with me years. My one secretary Nancy Potter has been with me 37 years. Cynthia Deeter, a paralegal, Connie Ebenger and two receptionists - Audrey Ford and Mee-Lun. We have summer law clerks. I have two investigators - Pat Hinkle, former IRS special agent and Bill McCallister from Indiana State Police - they all help. It's not just me. I feel like a conductor in an orchestra, putting all this together," Voyles said.

Driven to win in court and then driven to get home fast. After all, there are fun toys waiting in the garage.

"I've got a beautiful 1956 XK 140 Jaguar. I've got a replica of Steve McQueen's car from (the movie) "Bullitt." I've got a hot rod truck. I've got a lot of wonderful cars. And I buy what I like," said Voyles.

Voyles sees similarities between defending a client

So, which is the better feeling - winning a big case or driving a fast car?

"That's a tough one. I like winning a trial for my client and the satisfaction that we were able to persuade a group of people or a court that this is the right thing, but driving my car, by myself, out in the wilderness, which I like to go, as fast as I can go, is probably the best time," he said.

When asked how he wants to be remembered, Voyles has a quick answer.

"I want to be known as a decent person, who tried hard to do the right thing, good to his kids, family and he drove fast - way too fast."