The 25-year, full-time judicial career of Bartholomew Circuit Court Judge Stephen Heimann officially will come to an end Saturday.
When he retires, Heimann, 62, will leave office as the longest-serving judge in Bartholomew County history. His longevity is significant, but it doesn’t begin to describe the impact Heimann has had on the court system and in social issues.
He was known as being tough but fair in the courtroom and having a jovial and prankster side with courthouse colleagues — a combination that many of those who attended his Nov. 29 retirement party said will be missed.
Heimann’s impact in the community is evident in several ways. For example, he spearheaded the creation of the Bartholomew County Youth Services in 1992. A few years later, he unified a number of independent agencies into Bartholomew County Court Services.
He’s been an advocate of using evidence-based practices for law enforcement and the judicial system instead of a one-size-fits-all approach. Such practices have been scientifically tested and proven effective in reducing offender risk and recidivism — ultimately to keep people from repeating a cycle of incarceration.
He also has been at the forefront of local community problems, such as unmet mental health needs and gangs. Since a residential drug treatment program in Clarksville closed in 2012, Heimann has been working to get such a program for male offenders in Columbus. The significant problem of heroin and methamphetamine abuse makes the need great.
Heimann also played an important role as a former co-facilitator of a local Christian-Muslim dialogue group that met for several months in 2015 to improve relations between the groups. The dialogue group sprang out of an incident at the end of August 2014 when graffiti spray-painted on three churches appeared to be an attempt to blame Muslims. Worshipers at St. Bartholomew Catholic Church, Lakeview Church of Christ and East Columbus Christian Church found the word “infidels” and Quran chapter and verse references in black paint on the outside of their church buildings.
A judge has an impact on the lives of the people who enter the courtroom based on the rulings, but Heimann is a good example that judges can play an even greater role in a community and effect positive changes that benefit most if not all residents.