Johnson County’s longest-serving judge has decided to resign from her post in Superior Court 2, where she has overseen hundreds of trials and issued sentences on crimes ranging from drunk driving to death penalty cases.

Superior Court 2 Judge Cynthia Emkes will resign effective April 28, with nearly four years left in her term. She is the county’s longest-serving judge and first female judge and has presided over her court since 1987.

She announced her decision to retire before the end of her term this week.

“I’ve thought about retiring in the past; however, my decision always came down to the fact that I didn’t want to stop doing something I loved and that I would miss terribly,” Emkes said.

“Given all the same considerations now, I’ve concluded it’s not possible to continue my judicial service and at the same time give due consideration to my family and health needs. I pray that I will strike a happy medium serving in part-time status as a senior judge,” she said, referring to a state program where former or retired judges fill in for full-time judges or work on certain cases.

Gov. Eric Holcomb will select her replacement.

She said she regrets not finishing her term, but said she considered the decision carefully over a lengthy period of time.

“It has been a true honor and privilege to serve the residents of Johnson County and the State of Indiana,” Emkes wrote in her resignation letter.

“Words cannot fully convey my appreciation for the trust the voters have placed in me by allowing me to serve for the past 30 years. I have been humbled daily by the collegiality and support of other jurists and our local bar association.”

She plans to serve as a senior judge through a state program that calls on former or retired judges to serve as a replacement for a regular judge or to handle certain types of cases or court programs. Emkes also wants to volunteer in the community and at the state level in professional and community projects.

She had been re-elected in 2014 to a six-year term, which means the judge appointed to replace her will serve through the end of 2020.

“Any successes I have had in the administration of justice have been the result of working with talented, respected, hard-working and honorable judges, attorneys, bailiffs and judicial assistants,” Emkes wrote. “I cherish these individuals and am thankful to have had the opportunity to learn from them and work with them.”

The Greenwood resident is known across Indiana for her work with the death penalty and has written two guides for judges on the matter.

As judge in a superior court, she decides what evidence and testimony should be allowed in criminal cases, issues search warrants in criminal investigations and decides what sentences criminals should face. She has overseen several murder cases in recent years.

She became a superior court judge 30 years ago, and five years later was selected as a special judge in a Marion County trial that ended with the jury handing down the death penalty to a man who had stabbed two co-workers to death at a Shoneys restaurant.

In 2010, Emkes was one of nine semifinalists of 34 applicants for a vacancy on the Indiana Supreme Court and is the only Johnson County judge to have advanced to that point in the process.

In 2000, she also presided over the three-week jury trial of Michael Dean Overstreet, who was found guilty of raping and strangling Franklin College student Kelly Eckart.

Throughout her career, she’s been involved with the community corrections advisory board, has helped find solutions to managing jail overcrowding and has overseen the county’s alcohol and drug services program.

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Michele Holtkamp is editor of the Daily Journal. She can be reached at or 317-736-2774.