Date of death: April 15, 2021
Saint Meinrad Class: O 1963
Judge Maurice C. “Reece” O’Connor, 83, of Evansville, Indiana, passed away on Thursday, April 15, 2021 at his home surrounded by family.
Reece was born in Newburgh, Indiana on November 8, 1937 to the late Katherine Elizabeth (Munyon) and Daniel Joseph O’Connor. Reece graduated from Reitz Memorial High School and received a B.A. from St. Joseph’s College in 1960. He graduated from Indiana University School of Law in Bloomington in 1963. He passed the bar exam while already working for Wendell Lensing, a former judge and attorney in Evansville. Reece was drafted to serve in the military, attained the rank of captain and ultimately was assigned to the Judge Advocate General Corp. After the service, he returned to Evansville and later worked at the law firm of Mitchell, Stone and Keck. The firm later became Stone, Keck and O’Connor. In 1970, Reece was elected as an Indiana State Representative and served for two years. After practicing as a sole practitioner he was hired by William Brune as a Deputy Vanderburgh County Prosecutor. Prosecutor Bill Brune, along with the other deputy prosecutors at the time, Doug Knight, Carl Heldt and Jim Redwine all later served with Reece as Circuit or Superior Judges. Iconic Vanderburgh Circuit Court Judge William H. Miller hired Reece as one of Indiana’s first Court Commissioners.
A Court Commissioner is like a magistrate today, a hearing officer serving at the Judge’s pleasure. Reece was later appointed as Vanderburgh Superior Court’s first Court Administrator. He assisted Chief Judge Terry D. Dietsch in shortening the time for civil jury trial from years to months. Reece ran and was elected as Judge of the Vanderburgh Superior Court in 1982. Judge O’Connor was known for his unique sense of humor, his compassion as a jurist and was instrumental in helping Judge Wayne Trockman introduce Treatment Court in Vanderburgh County. It was a huge success and became the model for the entire state of Indiana. Reece devoted himself to justice and serving the citizens of Vanderburgh County. His colleagues on the bench called him “the heart and soul” of Vanderburgh Superior Court. He retired in 2000. Reece served as a Senior Judge until 2020, frequently working at the jail to review arrests and set bonds. He sat in when needed not just in Vanderburgh County, but Warrick and Posey counties as well. As a Senior Judge, he shared responsibilities in “Paper Court,” which meant working many Saturdays, Sundays and Holidays. When Reece took a break for lunch from the bench, he could often be found at DiLegge’s Restaurant holding court with many of the regulars who frequented the establishment; people from the legal profession, as well as many other walks of life. He had many friends and acquaintances who enjoyed gathering around to kibitz with the judge.
As a full-blooded Irishman, Reece enjoyed listening to Celtic music and watching the Celtic Women Dancers. He was also an avid collector of Waterford Crystal and of course a proud fan of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team…a true Irishman. Reece, while not as a verse in the kitchen as on the bench, had a lot of fun participating in a gourmet club with a few of his good friends, including former Vanderburgh County Prosecutor, Jeff Lantz, retired chef, David “Duffy” Dean, restaurateurs, Tony Weller, A. Smithy McGinnis and Dan DiLegge, as well as, barber, Jeff Norrington and retirees, Bill Jourdan and Harold Greise. Reece was an avid reader of the Wine Spectator and often contributed fine bottles of wine to the cause.
Reece is survived by his wife of 15 years, Kathleen (Dewig) O’Connor of Evansville, IN; his daughter, Beth Dreiman (Brandon) of Indianapolis, IN; his son, Michael Rice of Evansville, IN; brother, Dick O’Connor of Seattle, WA; and grandchildren, Luke Dreiman, Haylee Bogard-Rice (James), Gabrielle Sutton (Jeff); great grandchildren, Leviticus, Caspian, Kaylee, Jaylee, Dalton and Kingston.
Reece was preceded in death by his parents; and brothers, Anthony, Daniel, John and Bart O’Connor.