Four Johnson County men want to be the next judge of a superior court that oversees felony criminal trials or issues or approves sentences in hundreds of cases each year, makes decisions about evidence and witness statements and administers the county’s alcohol and drug services programs to offenders.
The job of judge of Johnson Superior Court 2 will be open at the end of April when longtime Judge Cynthia Emkes retires. The candidates so far are Johnson County judge Magistrate Doug Cummins, longtime attorney and former judge Jeff Eggers, Greenwood City Court Judge Lewis Gregory and attorney Peter Nugent.
Each candidate has more than 10 years of experience as an attorney, and three of them have had previous roles or are currently working as a judge.
Cummins said his lifelong career goal has been to replace Emkes once she decided to retire, and he’s gotten involved in every training, worked in all areas of the law and worked as a substitute judge in her court whenever possible to be ready for the job.
Story continues below gallery
He worked as a legal clerk for Emkes when he was in law school, has worked as a deputy prosecutor, been in private practice and been a substitute judge in every court in the county trying to gain as much experience as possible, he said.
He is currently enrolled in Indiana Judicial College, which is a college-credit program through the Indiana Office of Court Services. As a deputy prosecutor, he handled cases including domestic violence, sex crimes, crimes against children and internet crimes against children.
He is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force and was deployed 11 times.
As magistrate judge, he makes decisions to guide thousands of cases through his court. In 2016, the 15,000 cases on his docket included small claims lawsuits, protective orders and collection cases. When needed, he helps the five elected judges in their courts, presiding over divorces, foreclosures and criminal cases.
Eggers has already served as Superior Court 2 judge once before in his career, from 1982 to 1987, before he became Johnson County Circuit Court judge from 1987 to 1994. He has worked in private practice at his firm, Eggers Woods, in Franklin but has been on leave since October while working as a temporary judge in a Morgan County superior court at the request of the Indiana Supreme Court.
“You just don’t say no to the supreme court,” Eggers said.
He will continue working full-time in Morgan County until Gov. Eric Holcomb names a replacement. Those candidates are being interviewed now by state officials.
“It just got back in my blood,” Eggers said. He has continued to work as a senior judge for 30 days each year primarily in Hamilton and Blackford counties, but thought returning to a Johnson County superior court would be a great way to conclude his career, he said.
Greenwood City Court Judge Lewis Gregory said he can bring the work, progress and model programs, such as the drug treatment court, from his city program and expand it county-wide as judge of a superior court.
“We are the only city court in the state doing anything remotely like we’re doing, and doing it fairly well,” Gregory said.
He is qualified for the job not only due to his 21 years as Greenwood City Court judge, but also due to his experience as chairman of the Indiana State Parole Board for five years, in private practice and as a deputy prosecutor in both Johnson and Marion counties more than two decades ago.
“I’ve sort of seen the legal gamut from one end to the other,” Gregory said.
Nugent has also worked as a substitute judge for Emkes, enjoyed the work and would like to do it full-time. He has worked as a deputy prosecutor, defense attorney and public defender. He’s proud of the work he has done as an attorney, but said being a judge would allow him the chance to make a difference for people.
As a judge, his sentencing and message to low-level offenders, who perhaps have drug or alcohol addictions, could help guide them to getting help.
“Here’s a chance to help guide them in a direction that may change their lives,” Nugent said.
He is a partner at the Indianapolis law firm Thomas & Nugent and is counsel to the Indiana House of Representatives Republican Caucus. During his 30-year career, he has represented clients charged with crimes ranging from public intoxication to capital murder.
Here are the current candidates for Johnson Superior Court 2 judge: