ILNews

End of an IPAC era

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

To those on the prosecuting attorney side of Indiana’s legal community, Stephen J. Johnson has long been known as the answer man.

He is the reassuring voice who can point them to the statute, precedent, or practice tip that one might need as a prosecuting attorney. He’s been the legislative and executive branch liaison to Indiana’s 91 county prosecutors and has been the most visible voice for the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council through the years.

ipac Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council Executive Director Stephen Johnson is retiring this summer, concluding a 38-year career with the state office. He served as IPAC’s administrative leader for 14 years. (IBJ Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

But that is about to change. Johnson recently announced he will retire Aug. 1 from his position as IPAC executive director and leave the statewide agency he’s been with for 38 years. He is stepping down at a time when Indiana faces a heated debate about the restructuring of the state’s sentencing policy, and Johnson’s voice will likely be notably missed in the coming year.

“To some extent, he’s irreplaceable,” said Indiana Public Defender Council Director Larry Landis. “Not only because of his institutional memory, but because of that comprehensive knowledge of criminal law. That’s a big loss. Having him in that position has been very critical in shaping criminal justice policy in this state.”

Johnson notified the IPAC governing board of his impending retirement in mid-May and has been gradually informing others since then, he said. Johnson said he’s been considering the change for about two years and this is a personal decision that fits with this time in his life. He said his decision to retire is not a result of controversy he or prosecutors face relating to state toxicology lab errors and legislative debates about Indiana’s sentencing reform that have surfaced in the past several months.

“I wasn’t fired, and I’d actually been asked to stay on,” the 64-year-old Johnson said, referencing tensions about the most recent prosecution issues. “I’ve been thinking about this for a couple years, long before some of these recent issues have come up, and I have my health and am ready for the next stage.”

Admitted to practice in 1973, Johnson began at IPAC on Aug. 1 of that year when it was funded only by grants and not yet a state-funded agency. That change occurred in 1974. At that time, the office was four people in a small room at the Indianapolis law school with two desks and legal books. Johnson started as a research director and has served under two directors – former Porter County Prosecutor David Bahlmann and Richard Good. He succeeded Good as executive director in 1997.

In the early years, Johnson said officials thought he could also help on cases rather than just supplying support for prosecutors, and in the 1970s he assisted on a Bartholomew County triple-murder case that resulted in a hung jury. But that took too much time away from IPAC duties, and the job has since remained simply serving prosecutors with support and training.

Prosecutors statewide say Johnson has always been a trusted and respected representative for them, someone they’ve been able to call in a bind for advice or to get an update on a situation. Longtime prosecutors say he’s been hard-nosed when needed and able to craft a compromise when the situation warranted it.

“It’s amazing to watch his mind work, because he’s like a walking encyclopedia of knowledge on Indiana law and legal history,” said Elkhart County Prosecutor Curtis Hill. “He can recount years of legislative history and the players involved, and that knowledge and credibility that he’s put forward has been a huge benefit to every prosecutor and the entire criminal justice system.”

Former Vanderburgh County Prosecutor Stan Levco said he learned of Johnson’s retirement late last month at a conference in Indianapolis, and said the state has a tough task of finding someone to succeed his longtime friend. He recalls becoming a deputy prosecutor in 1980 after serving as Posey County judge and receiving a letter from Johnson, who’d been with IPAC for years at that point.

“You can’t replace him,” said Levco, who served 20 years as elected county prosecutor and was part of the IPAC governing board that chose Johnson for the executive director position. “Talk about big shoes to fill.”

Through the years, as his IPAC duties have increased and he began serving on more legislative committees, Johnson’s ability to keep in touch with prosecutors the way he once did and actually answer prosecutors’ questions during trials and proceedings has become limited.

“That’s something I miss personally,” he said, noting that prosecutor offices have changed generally in his time and now offer social services and work through specialized courts in ways that didn’t exist when he started his career.

Sentencing reform is an ongoing debate within the Indiana General Assembly, after last year’s study by the Pew Center on the States and the Council of State Governments Justice Center that found Indiana’s prison population had risen 41 percent in the past decade. The study recommended the state take measures to clear low-level offenders out of its prisons to curb the growth and reduce costs, but prosecutors derailed the discussion after insisting the study was flawed and the proposed reform could leave the state being “soft on crime.”

Some now wonder whether Johnson’s departure will influence the discussion this summer and fall, but he’s confident IPAC and prosecutors statewide will provide the information and involvement needed. Johnson said he timed his departure to happen before the 2011 interim study committees start meeting, allowing IPAC time to find a new director.

Rep. Ralph Foley, R-Martinsville, a former Morgan County deputy prosecutor who was elected to the General Assembly in the early 1990s, said Johnson will be sorely missed. He has earned the legislators’ respect and confidence, and it will be difficult to replace him – particularly now as the state continues discussing comprehensive sentencing and penal code reforms.

For his part, Johnson said he might consider independent contracting roles. But he is primarily looking forward to traveling and spending time with family.

Hill, an IPAC member, past president, and board member of IPAC’s sister-organization, the Association of Indiana Prosecutors, said Johnson has been instrumental through the years in trying to speak for the prosecutors and make sure those views are accurately represented to both sides when any issue or legislation is pending.

“This will be a daunting mission for us to take that next step … but that’s life,” he said. “You have iconic figures and it’s tough to imagine life beyond them, but you move on. Steve has worked tirelessly and we don’t want him to go, but with 35 years of service he’s done his bit for queen and country.”

The IPAC governing board has appointed a selection committee to conduct a statewide and national search, Johnson said. The position offers a salary of up to $125,000 depending on experience, and the person selected would be responsible for all IPAC operations as well as legislative lobbying and representing Indiana’s 91 prosecutors. The executive director also acts as a liaison to the governor’s office, law enforcement agencies, and various boards and organizations.

More information about the position and requirements can be found on the IPAC site at http://www.in.gov/ipac. Applications are due July 5 and may be sent to Kathy Falkner, 302 W. Washington St., Room E-205, Indianapolis, IN 46204.•

ADVERTISEMENT

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Indiana State Bar Association

Indianapolis Bar Association

Evansville Bar Association

Allen County Bar Association

Indiana Lawyer on Facebook

facebook
ADVERTISEMENT
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. "Am I bugging you? I don't mean to bug ya." If what I wrote below is too much social philosophy for Indiana attorneys, just take ten this vacay to watch The Lego Movie with kiddies and sing along where appropriate: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=etzMjoH0rJw

  2. I've got some free speech to share here about who is at work via the cat's paw of the ACLU stamping out Christian observances.... 2 Thessalonians chap 2: "And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe. For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own people the same things those churches suffered from the Jews who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to everyone in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last."

  3. Did someone not tell people who have access to the Chevy Volts that it has a gas engine and will run just like a normal car? The batteries give the Volt approximately a 40 mile range, but after that the gas engine will propel the vehicle either directly through the transmission like any other car, or gas engine recharges the batteries depending on the conditions.

  4. Catholic, Lutheran, even the Baptists nuzzling the wolf! http://www.judicialwatch.org/press-room/press-releases/judicial-watch-documents-reveal-obama-hhs-paid-baptist-children-family-services-182129786-four-months-housing-illegal-alien-children/ YET where is the Progressivist outcry? Silent. I wonder why?

  5. Thank you, Honorable Ladies, and thank you, TIL, for this interesting interview. The most interesting question was the last one, which drew the least response. Could it be that NFP stamps are a threat to the very foundation of our common law American legal tradition, a throwback to the continental system that facilitated differing standards of justice? A throwback to Star Chamber’s protection of the landed gentry? If TIL ever again interviews this same panel, I would recommend inviting one known for voicing socio-legal dissent for the masses, maybe Welch, maybe Ogden, maybe our own John Smith? As demographics shift and our social cohesion precipitously drops, a consistent judicial core will become more and more important so that Justice and Equal Protection and Due Process are yet guiding stars. If those stars fall from our collective social horizon (and can they be seen even now through the haze of NFP opinions?) then what glue other than more NFP decisions and TRO’s and executive orders -- all backed by more and more lethally armed praetorians – will prop up our government institutions? And if and when we do arrive at such an end … will any then dare call that tyranny? Or will the cost of such dissent be too high to justify?

ADVERTISEMENT