The Indiana Supreme Court should limit its discipline of Johnson County Prosecutor Bradley Cooper to a public reprimand, the hearing officer presiding over his case recommends.
Hearing Officer Charles K. Todd’s report was transmitted to justices Friday after it was filed earlier this week. Cooper is accused of violating rules of professional conduct for comments reported in the press criticizing a northern Indiana judge’s ruling that a murderer he prosecuted was not competent to be executed.
Cooper was involved of the prosecution of Michael Overstreet for the 1997 murder of 18-year-old Franklin College student Kelly Eckart. Overstreet was convicted and sentenced to death in 2000, but in 2014, St. Joseph Superior Judge Jane Woodward Miller granted Overstreet’s petition for post-conviction relief.
Cooper was quoted in the Indianapolis Star saying, “I was angry and suspicious when this case was sent to a distant judge who is not accountable to the Johnson County citizenry or a grieving mother who couldn’t even afford to drive up for the hearing. The idea that this convicted murdering monster is too sick to be executed is nothing short of outrageous and is an injustice to the victim, her mother, the jury and the hundreds of people who worked to convict this animal.”
Todd, who heard Cooper’s discipline case in his distant courtroom in Richmond, wrote that Cooper’s comments were directed at Miller but then noted, “This case has considerable mitigation, and it is difficult to imagine a case with much more by way of mitigation. The Hearing Officer is left with the firm and well supported impression that Respondent Cooper is a hard working, honest and ethical public servant and has been so for many years.”
Todd also noted a mitigating factor was that Cooper wrote a sincere letter of apology to Miller.
“The Hearing Officer is mindful that statements in violation of Rule 8.2(a) of the Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct may breed mistrust and lack of confidence in the competency and integrity of not only the criticized judge but of the entire adjudicatory system in this state. However, under all circumstances, including the considerable and significant mitigation, the Hearing Officer finds and recommends that a public reprimand is an appropriate discipline in this case.”
It will be up to the Supreme Court to determine what disciplinary sanctions, if any, to impose.