Johnson County prosecutor Cooper to resign after domestic battery sentencing

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to reflect that the Johnson County precinct committee members will select Cooper's successor.

Johnson County Prosecutor Bradley Cooper will resign from his elected office Wednesday after he is sentenced for felony and misdemeanor domestic battery charges, according to court records.

Cooper is scheduled to be sentenced at 2 p.m. Wednesday in Hancock Superior Court after a March 4 domestic violence incident. According to an amended plea agreement filed Tuesday, if Special Judge Dan Marshall accepts the amended agreement, Cooper will resign.

“The parties have agreed that the removal from office will be accomplished by resignation effective July 17, 2019, and the defendant will provide his signed Notification of Employment Status of Prosecutor (Resignation) to the State of Indiana if the plea is accepted by the court and the defendant is sentenced,” the amended agreement reads.

To the dismay of some in Johnson County, Cooper had continued to serve in the prosecutor’s office in Franklin after he was charged with and pleaded guilty to felonies.

Cooper pleaded guilty in April to three Level 6 felonies – criminal confinement, identity deception and official misconduct – and one count of Class A misdemeanor domestic battery after the March incident in which he allegedly struck his fiancée, confined her, then sent text messages pretending to be her. His initial plea agreement called for him to serve 540 days of probation.

Tuesday’s amended agreement makes slight “technical changes” to those charges. Count I, criminal confinement, will be entered for conviction as a Level 6 felony, but Cooper can petition the court to convert that conviction to a Class A misdemeanor after three years. Count IV, official misconduct, will be entered for conviction as a Class A misdemeanor under alternative misdemeanor sentencing.

“Essentially, the proposed sentences for Count I and Count IV are swapped,” the amended agreement says.

Under Count III, identity deception, Cooper can petition for the Level 6 felony to be converted to a Class A misdemeanor immediately after he completes probation.

Each of these stipulations are conditional on Cooper successfully completing probation. Among the terms he must adhere to are completing a batterer’s intervention or similar program, and to not possess any firearms. He must also pay restitution to the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute in an amount to be determined.

Cooper acknowledged in April that his convictions would result in his removal from office. Even so, the fate of his position as prosecutor has been uncertain in the three months since his pleas, as he has technically continued to serve in his elected position while awaiting the judge’s final decision on the plea agreement.

Cooper has also continued to draw a prosecutor’s salary, which an Indiana Supreme Court spokeswoman said is $151,137 for 2019. But the court told Indiana Lawyer that as of late last week, the Office of Judicial Administration placed him on no-pay status pending review of the criminal matter.

Online court records show the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission requested records from the domestic violence case, State of Indiana v. Bradley D. Cooper, 41C01-1904-F6-000221. Those records were sent to the commission on July 9. As of Wednesday morning, the commission had filed no formal attorney discipline complaint against Cooper.

According to the Daily Journal of Franklin, Cooper’s chief deputy prosecutor, Joe Villanueva, will become interim Johnson County prosecutor at 3 p.m. Wednesday. Cooper’s official successor will be selected by the Johnson County Republican Party and will serve the rest of Cooper’s term, which ends in 2022.

Beth Boyce, chair of the Johnson County Republican Party, previously told Indiana Lawyer that she would have a minimum of 10 days to submit written notice to 135 precincts after the prosecutor’s conviction.

“If nothing else changes, the vacancy would occur at that time and we would have 30 days to hold the meeting,” Boyce said last month. The final selection of a successor will be made by the county's precinct committee members, she said.

Cooper’s victim will not speak at Wednesday’s sentencing, according to court documents filed Tuesday. The victim was present at the guilty plea hearing, the filing says, and was satisfied with the proposed sentence.

“As set forth in the plea agreement, she is aware of the Defendant’s treatment progress in the last 90 days and expects the progress to continue while he is on probation,” the filing says. “She is pleased that the Defendant accepted responsibility early in the process and acknowledged that the television media statements he made immediately following the event were untrue.

“She waives her right to make a victim impact statement, indicating that she has already expressed her feelings to the Defendant privately.”

Indiana Lawyer obtained copies of the amended plea agreement and the victim impact waiver Wednesday morning from Decatur County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Doug Brown, who is serving as special prosecutor in the case. IL had requested copies of the public documents since 10 a.m. Tuesday, the day the filings were submitted to the court. However, neither the Johnson County nor Hancock County courts, nor the special judge, provided the public records.

The cause number technically places Cooper’s case in Johnson County, though his case is being heard at the Hancock County Courthouse in Greenfield. Indiana Lawyer reached out to the Johnson Circuit Court for copies of the records, but later received an email from the Johnson Circuit court reporter denying the request.

“While we have no opposition to your request for records, the Johnson County Circuit Court has recused from the case, and therefore, we are not in a position to act on your request,” the court reporter wrote to IL. “We would ask that you direct your inquiry to the Honorable Dan Marshall of the Hancock County Superior Court II, who is the Special Judge in this matter.”

Indiana Lawyer reached out to Marshall, forwarding the email from the Johnson Circuit reporter, but received no response.

IL also tried to obtain the public documents from the Hancock County Clerk’s Office after being rejected by Johnson County. But the Hancock County court officials told IL only Johnson County could provide the requested records.

IL encountered a similar obstacle trying to confirm the date and time of Cooper’s sentencing. The online case docket makes no mention of Wednesday’s sentencing hearing, and court officials from both Johnson and Hancock counties said they did not have access to information about when the hearing would be held.

Indiana Lawyer was able to confirm Wednesday’s hearing by reaching out to Brown.

In addition to losing his position as prosecutor, Cooper’s law license could be in jeopardy after Wednesday’s sentencing. Under Admission and Discipline Rule 23, Section 11.1(a)(2)(1), lawyers, including prosecutors, must report felony guilty findings to the Disciplinary Commission, which then reports the findings to the Supreme Court. The executive director of the Disciplinary Commission – currently G. Michael Witte – will request suspension of the lawyer at the time a felony is reported.

Cooper has previously been the subject of an attorney disciplinary action, receiving a public reprimand in March 2017 for comments he made to media outlets expressing frustration about a special judge granting post-conviction relief to a convicted Johnson County murderer.

Indiana Lawyer will attend Wednesday’s sentencing hearing. Check back with theindianalawyer.com for updates.

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