Editor's note: This story has been updated.
Johnson County Prosecutor Bradley Cooper told his domestic violence victim and former fiancee in court Wednesday “I did it … I did it all” as a judge accepted his guilty plea to felony counts that terminated his ability to serve in his elected office and jeopardize his license to practice law.
Cooper was sentenced as expected in Hancock Circuit Court for Level 6 felony counts of criminal confinement, identity deception and official misconduct, as well as a misdemeanor count of domestic battery, stemming from a March 4 domestic violence incident. He pleaded guilty to the charges in April.
Late Wednesday afternoon, the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission issued a notice of finding of guilt and request for suspension, formally launching an attorney discipline action against Cooper upon the formal acceptance of his felony guilty plea.
Special Judge Dan Marshall accepted Cooper’s plea agreement, under which he will be sentenced to 540 days, all suspended to supervised probation, and resign as prosecutor. Decatur County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Doug Brown, who served as the special prosecutor on Cooper’s case, told Marshall that Cooper had submitted his resignation, effective Wednesday, and returned official items, including office and vehicle keys, computer passwords, an iPad and his official prosecutor’s ID.
“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,” reads Cooper’s amended plea agreement, filed Tuesday.
Cooper was solemn throughout the proceedings, quietly chatting with a small group of men before Marshall entered the Greenfield courtroom. When the proceedings began, a couple of men patted Cooper on the back as a sign of support.
Cooper kept his eyes down for most of the hearing, sometimes reviewing court documents as the judge read the charges and sentence. When he spoke, he did so very quietly.
Given the opportunity to make a statement, Cooper first thanked Marshall and Brown for taking on special roles for his case. He then apologized to all the people he let down, turning specifically to his victim, who was in the audience, to offer her contrition.
Cooper told the court his victim bore no responsibility in the domestic violence incident in which he is alleged to have struck her, confined her, then pretended to be her in text messages.
Though she attended Wednesday’s sentencing, the woman did not speak. Instead, she had earlier agreed to a waiver of victim impact statement indicating she had attended the initial guilty plea hearing 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.”
In sentencing Cooper, Marshall said he does not normally make a sentencing statement. However, as a former deputy prosecutor and now a judge, Marshall said he and Cooper should understand that they should be held to a higher standard. Misconduct by public officials, Marshall said, undermines public trust in the judicial system.
Indeed, 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 the felonies.
Marshall also said Cooper, as someone who works in the criminal justice system, should understand the impact criminal conduct can have on the affected parties.
The plea agreement Cooper was sentenced under on Wednesday was amended slightly on Tuesday to make “technical changes.” Count I, criminal confinement, was 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, was 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 conditioned upon 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 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 afternoon, the commission had filed no formal attorney discipline complaint against Cooper.
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.
Brown said in court Wednesday that chief deputy prosecutor Joe Villanueva was being sworn in as Johnson County prosecutor. 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 precinct committee members in Johnson County.