The Indiana legal community has lost a former prosecutor and private attorney who, during his five decades of practice, established himself as a state and national expert in realty and development law.
Greenwood attorney Joe N. Van Valer, 75, died Sunday at Johnson Memorial Hospital in Franklin. The 1963 Indiana University School of Law – Indianapolis graduate was the founding and senior partner at Van Valer Law Firm, located in a restored Civil War-era building in downtown Greenwood. The firm specializes in land use, development, and construction law.
In private practice, Van Valer represented numerous developers who built new homes in Greenwood during the last few decades. His influence extended beyond his city and county. He helped draft laws creating the impact fees that developers pay to fund new parks and roads as well as a law that made the state one of the most consumer-friendly for implied home warranties that protect homebuyers from any construction defects discovered within 10 years. Van Valer also lobbied for federal legislation that allowed private insurance companies to insure home warranties.
All four of his children, including former Johnson Superior Judge Kim Van Valer, worked at the family firm as soon as each was old enough to hold a job and follow instructions. After leaving the bench in 2009, Kim returned and remains practicing at the firm.
After a stint in public office, Van Valer practiced at predecessor firms such as Van Valer & Williams. He served as the Johnson County prosecutor from 1967 to 1974, and it was that role that gave him an appearance in the late 1980s in the first episode of “America’s Most Wanted.”
City and police officials said Van Valer was the first prosecutor to train officers on how to handle evidence and testify in court. He also served as attorney for the Greenwood Community Schools and was actively involved in many community projects, carrying on the work of his parents, Ginger and Dick Van Valer. His mother was the first volunteer director of the city’s chamber of commerce while his father was a volunteer fire chief and newspaper editor.
Those remembering Van Valer say he was proud of his publications and the teaching he did through the years on topics such as farm estate planning, wealth management for closely held corporations, and the impact of interstate land sales. Van Valer received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Johnson County Builders Association, as well as many other civic and development and legal awards during his career. He was a member of the board of directors of the Home Warranty Corporation of Washington D.C. for more than five years, and he also served on the Builders Association of Greater Indianapolis governing board since 1975.
A memorial calling is scheduled for 3 to 8 p.m. Thursday at Wilson St. Pierre Funeral Service and Crematory in Greenwood. Memorial contributions can be made to the Johnson County Humane Society or the Joe N. Van Valer Pre-Law Fund in the advancement office at Franklin College, where he spent his undergraduate years.