DECISION DELAYED: Prosecutor caucus reset over eligibility issues

The caucus vote to select a new Johnson County prosecutor has been delayed two weeks because the candidates all needed to file two forms, and none of them did.

The problem was discovered on Thursday, and the candidates and more than 100 precinct committee members who had come to vote learned about the delay at the scheduled event.

The question as to what legal forms are required surfaced after one of the candidates filed a lawsuit earlier this week after learning she had not filed an economic statement as required by Indiana law to be an eligible candidate.

As the county Republican Party began investigating further, and consulted its attorney and the Indiana Election Division, party leaders who are charged with conducting the caucus learned that state law could be interpreted that candidates had to file a second form — an official Declaration of Candidacy. The form is provided by the state of Indiana and is known as a CEB-5. None of the candidates had filed the form with Republican Party Chairwoman Beth Boyce. Instead, they all sent letters stating that they were candidates, which is the manner she prescribed when announcing the vacancy.

One section of state law says that candidates have to file a declaration of candidacy, but doesn’t outline that it has to be on a specific form. The letter candidates submitted have been considered their declaration. But another section of Indiana law indicates that the declaration must be completed on an official state form.

"Because no one did that, I am required to reject their filings," Boyce said.

Boyce apologized to the public, the precinct committee members who will elect the new prosecutor in the caucus and the candidates for the unexpected delay. She said the party had no choice but to delay the vote to protect the integrity of the caucus. And, based on the law, the party had no eligible candidates to present.

"I assure you, this decision was not made lightly," Boyce said. But the party is 100 percent committed to restoring the public’s confidence in the Johnson County Prosecutor’s Office.

With the caucus now set for Aug. 29, all six candidates have time to submit all forms, but Boyce cautioned that the party will not serve as the candidates’ legal advisors in terms of whether the economic statements need to be refiled with the state, or on other matters.

Other candidates could also come forward. The deadline to meet all requirements and be a candidate is 6:30 p.m. Aug. 26.

The candidates who came forward for this caucus are: James Ackermann, Carrie Miles, Beckie St. John, Lori Torres, Mike Vertesch and Joe Villanueva. The winner will be sworn in and begin the job immediately following the caucus, completing Cooper’s term that ends on Dec. 31, 2022.

Earlier this week, the law regarding candidacy became an issue when the party discovered that two candidates — Vertesch and Miles — had not filed the statement of economic interests with the Indiana Office of Judicial Qualifications. Vertesch withdrew, but Miles planned to proceed as a candidate and had filed a lawsuit late Wednesday, then asked for it to be dismissed the morning of the scheduled caucus.

The new appointment was set in motion in April, when former Prosecutor Brad Cooper pleaded guilty in a guilty plea hearing to multiple felony and misdemeanor charges, stemming from a violent incident with his then-fiancee in March.

He was removed from office when he was sentenced on July 17.

The person named as prosecutor will decide which suspects are charged, and which aren’t, set guidelines for what types of plea agreements are acceptable, and manage a staff of nearly 40 employees. The job comes with an annual salary of $151,000.

When an elected official resigns, is removed or dies in office, precinct committee members of the political party are called to action. Because Cooper was a Republican, the local Republicans chose his replacement.

Cooper had been prosecutor for a decade.