Attorney Brian M. Johnson has been chosen by the Knox County Republican Party to be the party’s candidate on the November ballot for the Knox Superior Court bench.
Johnson will be running for the bench in place of the Knox Superior Judge Ryan Johanningsmeier, who was killed in a small plane crash Aug. 29. Since Johanningsmeier was running unopposed, Johnson is expected to start serving the six-year term Jan. 1, 2021.
Johnson, a 2010 graduate of Valparaiso Law School, is a partner at Kolb Roellgen Johnson & Traylor in Vincennes. He has served as a public defender in Knox County and as judge pro tem for the local courts. In private practice, he has experience in a variety of areas including criminal law, real estate, personal injury, evictions and estate planning.
A native of Knox County, Johnson was one of seven candidates interviewed by Republican Party officers, according to David Shelton, Knox County Republican Party vice chair and Knox County clerk. Johnson’s work in the Knox Superior Drug Court program, counseling and working with the participants for the past four years enabled the attorney to stand out from the others.
Johnanningsmeier started the local drug court program, which currently has 50 participants. Shelton said maintaining the program was “high priority” not only to continue helping the individuals – which, in turn, benefits the families and the community – but also to honor the legacy of the late judge.
Superior Court staff who worked with the drug court program along with the participants told the Republican Party officials they supported Johnson’s candidacy, Shelton said.
“I think we’re glad to have made the choice we did,” Shelton said. “I think (Johnson) is the best candidate to honor Judge Johanningsmeier’s legacy and his memory.”
Thursday, Shelton traveled to Indianapolis to file the necessary paperwork with the Indiana Election Commission to get Johnson’s name substituted on the ballot. Also, he delivered a letter to Gov. Eric Holcomb “humbling suggesting” Johnson be appointed to the Superior Court now to serve the remainder of Johanningsmeier’s term.
Shelton said allowing Johnson to join the bench before the end of the year would bring some consistency and continuity to a court that handles more than 5,000 cases annually.
“Brian Johnson will be busy,” Shelton said. “But he knows what he’s getting into. He’s practiced extensively in that court.”
In an order issued Sept. 1, the Indiana Supreme Court granted Knox Circuit Judge Sherry Gregg Gilmore and Knox Superior Judge Gara Lee the ability to fill the Superior Court vacancy until the governor makes an appointment. Gilmore and Lee can appoint senior judges and local judges pro tempore.
The four Republican Party officials met for more than 10 hours to interview and select a candidate for the Superior Court vacancy, according to Shelton. Each candidate was asked the same 20 questions and a few follow-up questions in interviews that lasted about an hour.
All of the interviews and deliberations were done in-person Sept. 8 and 9 in a large conference room at Pioneer Oil and Propane in Vincennes.
To select their candidate, the local party officials copied the process the state Republican Party used to pick the candidate for Indiana Attorney General, Shelton said. The party officials would write their top three choices in order of their preference, then the candidates with the least votes were dropped off the balloting until one person remained.
“We were very fortunate as a Republican Party to have such a deep pool of quality and qualified candidates,” Shelton said. “They all presented very well in the interview process. It made the decision tough but I’d rather have a tough decision than scraping the bottom of the barrel.”