Judge known for humor, service retiring

When a former colleague on the bench learned that a serious tribute to retiring Bartholomew Circuit Judge Stephen Heimann was being planned, it struck him as a bit odd.

“Anyone who has ever met Steve knows it ought to be a roast,” said Chris Monroe, who stepped down as Superior Court 1 judge at the end of 2012 after 23 years on the bench, now an attorney in private practice.

Like others with involvement in Columbus’ judicial system, Monroe has long known there are two distinct sides to Heimann, a Democrat who will retire Dec. 31 after 25 years — serving longer than any judge from any court in Bartholomew County history.

One side is the widely lauded community leader and adjudicator who is all-business when court is in session. The other is an off-the-wall prankster with a reputation for pulling practical jokes on judicial colleagues outside the courtroom.

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During Tuesday’s hour-long Courthouse tribute attended by more than 120 people, most speakers seemed to agree with Monroe. Almost every presenter mixed heartfelt praise for Heimann with good-natured ribbing that the retiring judge appeared to enjoy more than anyone.

Roast-quality remarks firmly delivered in-cheek ranged from the judge’s deadpan joke delivery and frugality to his unusual culinary tastes and one-time charity pig-kissing.

Dream job?

Humor can help a judge cope with serious and sometimes overwhelming responsibilities where he or she has little control over caseload, clientele and resources — or a decision overturned by an appellate court, according to the National Criminal Justice Reference Center.

Judges also must conduct extensive and complex research with little to no feedback while being subjected to frustrating delays and disturbing evidence, center reports state.

“In a position where one sees the worst situations, human failings and confrontational problems, one could easily become very cynical,” Bartholomew Circuit Court Judge-elect Kelly Benjamin said in her prepared remarks.

When excessive media exposure, strict codes of conduct, safety concerns and political pressures are added, elected judges are often plagued by job burnout or compassion fatigue, according to several national studies.

“Being a judge is pretty isolating,” said Monroe, who reminded the audience that even being seen socializing one-on-one with another attorney can result in accusations of impropriety.

Although most people are unaware of these stringent lifestyle restrictions, such challenges facing judges are well-known to the attorneys who make up the Bartholomew County Bar Association.

Not only has Heimann worked with them for a quarter-century, he has also “performed his duties with a high degree of professionalism, proficiency, skill and integrity,” according to a resolution from the association, which sponsored the tribute three days before Heimann’s 62nd birthday.


Besides his long tenure, dry humor and frequent 12-hour workdays, Heimann likely will be best remembered for spearheading the creation of the Bartholomew County Youth Services Center in 1992 as well as unifying a number of independent agencies into Bartholomew County Court Services a few years later.

Heimann also has been at the forefront of local efforts to confront community problems, from street gangs to unmet mental health needs.

The retiring judge also has been an outspoken advocate of evidence-based practices in both law enforcement and the judicial system.

Instead of a one-size-fits-all concept, the practice utilizes approaches and interventions that have been scientifically tested and proven effective in reducing offender risk and subsequent recidivism.

What may have gone unnoticed in Columbus is Heimann’s significant impact on statewide policies in areas such as judicial ethics and continuing legal education, as well as court and attorney assistance programs, said Jane Seigel, Indiana Office of Court Services executive director.

“My dad always said, ‘You know, Steve, about 20 percent of the people do the work and about 80 percent will try to take credit for it,’” Heimann told the crowd. “So you might as well do the work because there’s a lot less competition.”

In cooperation with the Heritage Fund — The Community Foundation of Bartholomew County, a new legacy for the retiring judge was unveiled to the public this week.

Seven donors already have stepped up to start a new philanthropic fund in honor of Heimann, who will determine with Heritage Fund administrators what community needs should be addressed with the proceeds, said Sarla Kalsi, executive director of the Irwin-Sweeney-Miller Foundation.

“This fund is just starting,” Kalsi said. “We expect more will be added, and community members are being encouraged to contribute.”

Unmet goal

There is one significant community challenge Heimann will be unable to address before retiring to the status of senior judge: the lack of a residential drug treatment program for male offenders in Bartholomew County.

Since state funding cuts forced the closure of the Southern Indiana Forensics Diversion Program in Clarksville in 2012, 19 counties — including Bartholomew — have ineffective or no options regarding drug-addicted men facing charges.

“We’ve got a significant issue as it relates to heroin and methamphetamine,” Heimann said in an interview before Tuesday’s tribute. “Those two drugs take some very stringent treatment that often requires residential treatment.”

While such programs require legal and financial support from the General Assembly, Indiana law allows each county to determine how to address such addiction issues — which makes state support difficult to obtain, Heimann said.

In addition, several unrelated changes ranging from evidence-based decision making to pretrial conditions have kept Bartholomew County’s judicial system in a state of transition, Heimann said.

But Heimann said he is encouraged by ongoing efforts to obtain funding and support for jail-based addiction services.

“We are moving in that direction (of creating effective addiction treatment programs) but not nearly as quickly as we’d like to,” Heimann said.

[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”Stephen R. Heimann” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

Name: Stephen R. Heimann

Age: 62 today

Hometown: Decatur, Indiana

Position: Bartholomew Circuit Court judge since Oct. 1, 1991.

Education: Bachelor or Arts degree from Wabash College in 1977; law degree from Indiana University School of Law, Indianapolis, 1980; Indiana Graduate Program for Judges, 1996; Indiana Judicial College Graduate, 1998.

Legal activities (past and present): Bartholomew County Bar Association, past board of directors; Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee, past chairman; Juvenile Justice Improvement Committee, past chairman; Indiana Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, board of directors and past president; Indiana Judicial Conference, board of directors; Indiana Board of Law Examiners, past president; Judicial Ethics and Professionalism Committee, past chairman; Judicial Education Committee; Criminal Law and Sentencing Policy study committee; Judges & Lawyers Assistance Program, board of directors.

Law-related awards: Outstanding Faculty Service (Judicial Center); Robert J. Kinsey Award in recognition of Outstanding Judicial Service and Support to the Youth of Indiana; Fair Administration of Juvenile Justice Service Award, Indiana Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges; Outstanding Judge Award, Indiana Bar Association/Young Lawyers Section.

Family: Wife, Ann; two children, Andrew and Emily

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“Judge Heimann has embodied the most dignified ideals of our judiciary, dutifully demanding of himself the same high standards of conduct that he enforces and maintains for the community. The legacy he leaves has made a difference.” — Nov. 17 statement read on the U.S. Senate floor by Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly.

“Steve took his judicial leadership into the community to help address our concerns, whether that meant prevention of gangs, addressing unmet mental health needs, and – most recently- – addressing drug-treatment needs. All of these efforts helped to improve the lives of children and families.” —  Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop in proclaiming Nov. 29 as Judge Stephen Heimann Day.

“Judge Heimann has made a tremendous impact on the state’s juvenile justice system and our criminal justice system. As far as the judiciary is concerned, he’s changed the landscape.” — Indiana Supreme Court spokeswoman Jane Seigel.

“As my mentor, Steve taught me what a judge should strive to become. Compassionate, yet strong — to understand the great responsibility the public has entrusted with them — and to adhere to the principles of patience and humility.  I can never repay him.” — Bartholomew Superior Court 1 Judge Jim Worton

“Because of his caring heart and attitude of service to the community, Steve took judicial leadership to an aspiring level.” — Magistrate Heather Mollo

“Every time Steve was up for re-election, someone would come up to me and say we need a good Republican there. I’d tell them we already have a good, hard-working, conscientious Democrat. No problem.” — Columbus attorney and former Superior Court 1 judge Chris Monroe.

“We have valued your professionalism, dedication, fairness and honesty over the years. You’ve been a God-send for our department, this community and the entire judicial system.” — Jim Pridgen, representing the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department


“I asked (our lawyers) if they’d like to have a comment included in a resolution for Judge Heimann. I got lots of comments, but I had to tell them: ‘Now, hold on a minute here! He’s going to be a senior judge for awhile after he reads these.’” – Bartholomew County Bar Association president Stan Gamso.

“After Steve took the bench, an additional maintenance person had to be employed at this Courthouse in order to eliminate the extreme and continuous foul odor of sardines in the offices, hallways and trash cans. Rancid foods such as these will now be forever banned.” — Jim Lienhoop

“I’ve learned never to leave my office door unlocked when Steve is around. Even yesterday, I saw him lurking around my office. When I later went in to put my robe on, my sleeves were turned inside out.” — Jim Worton

“There was never a dull moment or a slow day when Steve was in the office. Even though he may have been the oldest judge, he has the youngest spirit. Some might even say sophomoric.” — Heather Mollo

“Even though I’ve known Steve for 36 years, I still don’t know when he starts something if it’s going to be serious or not.” — Chris Monroe

“Judge Worton has given me this warrant right here.  And we do have the jail officers outside to take you away.” — Jim Pridgen