When a Franklin attorney takes on a new client who has been arrested and could face a prison sentence, he often wonders about their childhood.

In his nearly 20 years as a deputy prosecutor and then a defense attorney, Andy Roesener has been involved in hundreds of criminal cases. One common theme he has found is issues adults faced in childhood — ranging from a parent’s drug abuse to domestic violence — impact them later.

When he takes on his new role making decisions in the county’s child and family court next year, Roesener hopes to have an impact on those people earlier in their lives.

“Maybe if I could do more with these sorts of situations then maybe some of these kids won’t go down the wrong track, and that’s particularly interesting to me,” Roesener said. “Some of these kids are already in a crisis.”

As magistrate, Roesener will be responsible for big life decisions, such as whether a child should live with his mother or father, he said. He also will make decisions in cases of drug or alcohol abuse when children are involved, neglect and where a parent has not paid child support for a significant amount of time.

He will be the one deciding the fate of children who have either been in situations of abuse or neglect in their home or have broken the law.

Roesener will take over the position as magistrate for the juvenile and family court in Johnson County, with an annual salary of $46,393. He will follow Judge Marla Clark, who has been the magistrate for nine years, but was elected to be the judge of the new Johnson County Superior Court 4 starting next year.

Johnson County Circuit Judge Mark Loyd appointed Roesener five months ago, and said Roesener filled the description of what is needed in a magistrate. Along with his patience, Roesener also has the analytical skills to process all of the information in cases, Loyd said. Roesener’s experience with cases in the area also will aid him in his new role, Loyd said.

In each case, Roesener’s goal is to do what is in the best interest of the child, and if possible, keep families together, Roesener said. In cases of domestic abuse or neglect, parents are not always the best caretaker for a child, he said.

“If I can (keep families together), I think that’s in the child’s best interest. But if I reach the point where kids are not getting consistent love and attention from mom or dad, I think it’s my responsibility to say ‘I can’t wait forever.’ We can’t keep kids in a home that’s dysfunctional,” Roesener said.

“At the end of the day, they’ve got to be somewhere that they feel safe and secure.”

Since being appointed in August, Roesener has spent months watching how Clark operates. Roesener sits in on various cases to listen to how Clark presents herself and makes decisions.

As magistrate, Roesener wants to be consistent with his decisions, be accessible to attorneys if they need him before a decision is made and be patient when hearing all of the facts of a case, he said.

Since Clark has been in her role for the last nine years, Roesener said the juvenile and family court works well as it is. He doesn’t plan to change much of the procedures or staffing within the court for the first six months to a year.

“It’ll be an interesting first year, because I have a lot to learn,” he said.

Roesener’s career started in 1998, as a deputy prosecutor in Johnson and Marion Counties. He opened his private practice about 10 years ago, and it is bittersweet to have that side of his career winding down, he said. Since opening his practice, he has represented Amanda Smith, who pleaded guilty but mentally ill to murder after drowning her 3-year-old son in 2012; Michael B. Smith, who was found guilty of murdering his wife in 2003, and Tiffany Norton, who pleaded guilty to stabbing her newborn in 2004.

If he was given the opportunity to be a magistrate, Roesener knew that he would accept, he said.

After seeing multiple types of cases in his nearly 20-year career, he came to respect the judges the most.

“I saw a lot of judges, some good, some bad, but in some ways you think, ‘I’d like to try this.’ Because when you see the men and women do it that are really good, they have a huge impact on people, and you can impact people in a different way than you can as an attorney,” he said.

“Professionally, it’s the biggest honor of my life to be able to do something that’s this important.”

The Roesener file

Name: Andy Roesener

Age: 47

Residence: Franklin

Family: Wife, Asha; two children

Education: Franklin College, Drake University Law School

Work experience: Deputy prosecutor in Johnson County, drafted legislation for the Indiana General Assembly and worked in private practice since 2004

New role: Magistrate of Johnson County juvenile and family court starting Jan. 1