Johnson County GOP ready to ‘move on’ after Cooper resignation

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With its elected prosecutor now out of a job following his domestic battery sentencing, the Johnson County Republican Party is ready to move on.

Former prosecutor Bradley Cooper resigned Wednesday after he was sentenced to probation for felony and misdemeanor charges stemming from a March domestic violence incident. His chief deputy is temporarily filling the position, but the county GOP is already making plans to name Cooper’s official successor.

“As you can imagine, just due to the circumstances of how we got here, folks feel disappointment in Brad and all that has happened,” Johnson County Republican Party chair Beth Boyce said, adding that the local party is ready to move on from the legal issues surrounding the prosecutor’s office.

On Friday, letters were sent to the 133 precinct committee members of the Johnson County GOP, who will name the next prosecutor. The precinct committee members will caucus publicly at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 15 at Grace Assembly of God Church in Greenwood.

Attorneys who are in good standing and who live in Johnson County are eligible to be considered for the prosecutor position, Boyce said. Interested attorneys can submit their names for consideration by the caucus up to 72 hours before the Aug. 15 meeting.

“This has been a lengthy process throughout the last few months, and I have been contacted by, if I add it up, probably seven individuals who are thinking about it,” Boyce told Indiana Lawyer. “Whether they all become official candidates remains to be seen, but there are definitely numerous folks interested in the position.”

Among those who will be considered for the position are Joe Villanueva, the current interim Johnson County prosecutor who has served as the county’s chief deputy prosecutor for the last decade. Villanueva has devoted his entire career to the JCPO, taking a job prosecuting traffic tickets right out of law school 19 years ago and working his way up the ranks ever since, including a decade as chief deputy.

“I’ve done it all,” Villanueva said in an interview.

But the interim prosecutor’s experience could be a double-edged sword, he concedes – it could prove that he has the requisite skills to be the prosecutor full-time, or it could closely associate him with the legal issues that have surrounded Cooper.

“It’s been rough,” Villanueva said of the months since his former boss’ arrest. “I would never in a million years have imagined myself being in the position I was placed in. However, at the end of the day, we have a duty to the people of this county, and nothing takes priority over that.”

Villanueva recalled meetings in which he had to encourage the staff to keep their heads up. “We’ve got to keep doing our jobs,” he would tell them, “and don’t worry about what is being printed about our boss.”

Though Cooper pleaded guilty to the felony counts in April, Boyce said the county GOP had to wait until a court officially accepted the plea agreement to begin the process of naming a successor.

“We’ve just been sort of waiting on the sidelines for the time a vacancy would occur so we could step in a move forward,” she said.

On the plus side, there was never any lapse in the JCPO’s service, Villanueva said, and his day-to-day routine hasn’t really changed since being sworn in as interim prosecutor. One of his goals in his interim capacity is to improve frayed communications between the prosecutor’s office and some local law enforcement agencies.

Though the office is without an permanent leader, Villanueva said it feels as though a cloud was lifted when Cooper officially resigned on Wednesday.

“Knowing there is finality is helpful,” the interim prosecutor said. “… It’s time to move forward and it’s time to move on, and that’s what I really want to focus on – letting our community heal and letting us take care of business.

“It’s our job to serve the people,” he said, “and that’s why we’re here.”

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