News and Tribune

April 1, 2013

Early bids entered in 2014 Clark County prosecutor race

By GARY POPP
gary.popp@newsandtribune.com

CLARK COUNTY — Clark County residents can expect a new chief prosecutor to be elected next year. 

Clark County Prosecutor Steve Stewart has recently said that he will not seek reelection in the 2014 election.

Stewart has served as the prosecutor in Clark County since 1989 and is the longest-serving prosecuting attorney in the county’s history.

Those vying to fill his seat include Clark County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Jeremy Mull, who is running as a Republican, and Clark County Democratic Party chairman and attorney  Bob Bottorff.

Bottorff, a Clark County native, said he would build on the office’s relationship with members of area law enforcement agencies and implement a training program for the staff of deputy prosecutors.

Bottorff served as a prosecuting attorney in Clark County from 2006 to early 2009. He took the job under Stewart after working three years as a prosecuting attorney in St. Joseph County in Northern Indiana.

He said his experience working in two different prosecutor’s offices has given him a unique perspective that he would draw from as Clark County prosecutor.

“Having worked in two different offices, it gives me an idea of things that worked in one and didn’t work in another,” he said.

As a prosecuting attorney, Bottorff has had experience prosecuting low-level misdemeanors, domestic violence, sex abuse and drug-related crimes.

“You have to have that experience in doing a criminal case and a working criminal case and multiple varieties of criminal cases. You have got to have that experience to properly analyze a criminal matter, whether or not it is a matter you have to prosecute really vigorously, or something you shouldn’t be spending the public resources on,” he said.

Bottorff has been employed with Jeffersonville law firm Applegate, Fifer & Pulliam since leaving the Clark County prosecutor’s office.

He said he works primarily in real estate litigation and only rarely in criminal cases, but said in his current position he has continued to learn skills he can use as the county prosecutor.

Those skills, he said, include managing human resources, something he feels is crucial to successfully serving the residents of Clark County as prosecutor.

“Obviously, having the experience of being in the trenches for a number of years as a deputy prosecuting attorney, I think that really helps you know what you have to do to in managing the office, for one thing, because first and foremost that is what the role of the prosecuting attorney is, is properly managing your human resources there,” Bottorff said. 

He would start, he said, by implementing training programs for his deputy prosecutors and area lawmen.

“I think it is imperative that you have a pretty solid training program for your folks, and, coupled with that, training programs for the police officers because if they don’t understand what is necessary to try a good case then you are never going to get good police reports submitted.”

Bottorff said the prosecutor’s office benefits from working with the officers who take the initial police report, carry out the processes of collecting evidence and statements from witnesses and lay the foundation for prosecutors who handle the cases.

“To me, it is a better use of public resources to have a training program in place where my deputy prosecutors are getting trained to know what is a good case and what is a bad case, and when it is a good case and you have to take it to trial, this is how you try it,” Bottorff said. “Now, [in Clark County], I haven’t seen that. Part of that is there is just a lack of funding, for right or wrong.”

However, he said some programs have been put in place to give the Office of the Clark County Prosecutor some additional financial padding. He said those programs include pretrial diversion and infraction deferral.

He said a more efficient prosecutor’s office will result from having the training programs in place.

“The law enforcement community and the prosecutor’s office are working hand in hand, and, ultimately, it saves everybody tax payers’ dollars to do that correctly,” Bottorff said.

He said through training, less experienced prosecutors would become more adept at knowing which people should be charged and which cases should be taken to trial.

“You’ve got to know how to train you deputies to do that,” he said. “You have to set policies in the office to make sure that is getting done effectively. That is what I think I can bring to the table, is making sure these policies are in place and setting forth those policies so that the people that really need to get charged, get charged, are and those that don’t, don’t.”

As an attorney with Applegate, Fifer & Pulliam, Bottorff said he also has learned skills not often possessed by those with only criminal litigation experience.

“Having the experience in the civil practice, it has given me a really good understanding of the appeals process that I don’t think you ever really [receive] as a deputy prosecuting attorney, and it does give you an idea of what you do need to be looking at for appeals and making sure your cases are solid and moving forward.”

He said his background of briefing appeals has given him knowledge to help save tax dollars if elected prosecutor.

“I don’t want to waste time and waste money of the public,” Bottorff said. “I want to make sure we are prosecuting individuals that need to be prosecuted and we are not prosecuting people that shouldn’t be because you have to make that decision as a prosecutor.”

Bottorff said as prosecutor, he would also have to contend with the steady flow of offenders booked into the Michael L. Becher Adult Correctional Complex.

“This is another issued of public resources, and how you spend those resources,” he said. “The problem is every case that you have is different.”

He said each new offender must be treated on a case-by-case basis. He said polices must be continued, and possibly adjusted, to determine if that person is a likely to flee before a subsequent court hearing or is a possible risk to the community.

“The way to really impact the jail population is to move the cases along more effectively and more quickly,” he said. “I think you will find the vast majority of people that are in the jail are pretrial, meaning that they are awaiting trial. If you are effectively managing your human resources and you are effectively moving your case load along, that is going to have a direct impact on the jail population.”

He said as prosecutor he would also take steps to modify currently policies to make cases move quickly and smoothly.

“For every person that is sitting there [in jail] awaiting trail, that is money that is being paid out in the county and it is a liability concern. It is a major expense for us as a county. I will strive to make sure we are moving those cases along,” he said. “A lot of arrests get made, and I don’t know that you can impact the arrests that are made, but you can impact the processing of those arrests once they are made.” 

Bottorff also commented on his stance toward those offenders who fail to make court-issued child support payments, an issue, he said, that can affect an entire community.

“It is the role of the prosecutor to go after folks that are not paying their child support,” he said. “Ultimately, that causes a major burden for the rest of the people in society and, in particular, in Clark County.”

He said if single parents are not receiving the resources they need to properly raise their children, it results in the allocation of public entitlements to those families.

“If you are not getting enough support from the person that is responsible for this child then you are going to have those public funds coming out,” he said. “The other side of it, too, is that there is just something inherently wrong with not taking responsibility for your actions.”

He said when those who violate child-support mandates are not held accountable, it is the community that pays.

“The issues that stem from child support often times lead to the bigger criminal cases,” he said. “You have kids that are not getting proper support for care and ultimately that leads sometimes to criminal activity, period.”

Bottorff said whoever is elected the next county prosecutor, he or she will be working with a limited pool of resources, but feels with his array of legal experience he can best use those resources to serve the people of Clark County.