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New county court judge candidates stress experience

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Two Republicans vying to become judge of a new county court both have experience serving on the bench and running an office.

Joe Villanueva and Marla Clark are seeking the party’s nomination for the new Superior Court 4 judge position. The court will open next year and handle civil cases, including divorces and mortgage foreclosure cases. The race is the first contested judge race in the county since a three-way race among Republicans for Superior Court 3 judge in 1996.

Both candidates spend their days working in the courtroom. Villanueva, as chief deputy prosecutor for the county, has 14 years of trial experience prosecuting criminals. Clark has been judge of the county juvenile and family court since 2005 and handles multiple cases each day.

Villanueva also has served as a substitute judge for civil cases in various county courts. He said his experience as a prosecutor has prepared him to run a trial court of his own.

“You should know what it’s like to have done trials, both jury and bench trials, as a lawyer. That’s where everything comes to a head, all the procedural rules and evidentiary rules,” Villanueva said. “I’m the only one that actually has trial experience as a lawyer.”

Clark served as substitute judge in Johnson County between 2001 and 2005 before being appointed to lead the juvenile and family court in 2005. She also worked with Indiana Court of Appeals judges to draft opinions and specialized in family law and civil cases during law school, which will apply in the new civil court, she said.

“I’m the candidate that has significant judicial experience,” Clark said. “Family law and civil cases, that was my background. That’s what I’ve been doing.”

Superior Court 4 will be a new expense for the county, and both judges want to get cases resolved quickly and run the office on a low budget. Villanueva said he helps manage the county prosecutor’s office of 13 attorneys and 30 staff members. Clark said she has been running the juvenile court for years and is used to operating with a tight budget.

Clark implemented a new case management system in the juvenile court, which helped cut the average case time from 82 days to 42 days. Using that system and seeking other ways to resolve

cases outside court will prevent them from backing up, she said.

“I’d like to use other technology, mediation and alternative dispute resolution. Through mediation you can reserve court time for cases that truly cannot be settled,” Clark said.

Villanueva also wants to be able to implement new technology in the future, such as e-filing for certain cases, that could reduce the amount of work each office clerk needs to handle. Villanueva said he also would push to get cases resolved so they don’t drag on, which then requires more time from office workers to log and file paperwork.

“The judge is the one who controls the speed at which things happen in the courtroom; and if they keep a tight rein, they can get things moved through expeditiously,” Villanueva said.


Superior Court 4 Judge

Geographic area covered: All of Johnson County

Duties: Hearing civil cases, including divorces and mortgage foreclosures, in the new court. Judges also manage office clerks and plan annual spending for the court.

Term: Six years

Salary: $134,112 paid by the state, plus $5,000 from the county.


Marla Clark

Education: Law degree from Indiana University, CPA in finance from University of Houston, Center Grove High School valedictorian

Family: Four children, Sydney, 17, twins Hannah and Nicholas, 16, Max, 15

Current job: Johnson County juvenile court judge

Joe Villanueva

Education: Law degree from Indiana University, bachelor of arts from University of Illinois, Schaumburg High School

Family: Wife, Dr. Carrie Hill; children Joey, 7, and Presley, 6

Current job: Johnson County chief deputy prosecutor

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