Villanueva picked as county prosecutor

The county’s longtime chief deputy prosecutor who has been leading the office in recent months has been named Johnson County prosecutor.

Joe Villanueva was selected by the 119 Republican Party precinct committee members or vice committee members in a caucus conducted on Thursday night. Villanueva got enough votes after two rounds of voting.

He was sworn in immediately and will serve as prosecutor through the end of 2022.

In his brief speech to the precinct committee members at the caucus on Thursday night, Villanueva said that the prosecutor’s office needs his leadership, which has already been proven in the community. He’s been tested during the adversity of the year in very public ways, but also behind the scenes in taking on a critical trial with short notice after Cooper’s arrest. The public knows that he gets in the trenches and does the work, he said.

“That’s proven leadership,” Villanueva said.

He’s made the office stronger already, and acknowledged that many in the room had been upset by the personal and professional behavior of Brad Cooper, his former boss. He had no part in destroying relationships, but will do the work to rebuild, he said.

“My office wasn’t in a free for all as some would have you to believe,” Villanueva said.

When he speaks about setting the moral compass, he isn’t using political rhetoric. He’s referring to how he has chosen to live personally and professionally, he said.

“Everything I’ve done should serve as an example that it’s not going to be business as usual at the prosecutor’s office,” Villanueva said.

This was the party’s second attempt to name a prosecutor to replace Cooper, who was removed when he was convicted of felonies in July. A caucus planned for earlier this month was canceled after the party and candidates had already assembled because the party did not believe any of the candidates had filed all of the required paperwork.

Villanueva was one of five candidates. The other candidates were James Ackermann, Carrie Miles, Beckie St. John and Lori Torres.

Villanueva, of Bargersville, was the Johnson County Prosecutor Office’s longtime chief deputy and has been acting prosecutor since Cooper’s removal. He has worked for the prosecutor’s office for 19 years.

He has already taken steps to put policies in place in the office, streamline work and set up a chain of command, and the relationships with other area leaders, such as police departments, has already improved, he said.

He is on the Adult & Child board of directors, Johnson County Fraternal Order of Police No. 154, the Franklin Elks and its veterans committee and the Masonic Lodge.