VALPARAISO — Republican Porter Circuit Court Judge Mary Harper said when she last ran for her seat in 2014, the six judges in Porter County collectively had among the most seniority in the state.
That began falling apart a few years ago and, by the end of next year, will be long gone.
The county's two most senior judges — Republican Porter Superior Court Judge Roger Bradford and Harper — will wrap up their current terms next year and both confirmed last week they will not seek re-election. They will walk away with more than 75 years of judicial experience between them.
"I really mean it this time," Bradford said, chuckling as he recalled how he announced he was done around the time of his 2008 election victory. "I just decided I wasn't ready to retire."
But as he nears 40 years on the bench in Porter County, which places him among the longest-serving judges statewide, Bradford said the time to call it quits has arrived.
"It's time," he said with mixed feelings. "I still love what I'm doing."
Having won six elections and now serving her 35th year on the bench, Harper said her decision not to seek re-election is also bittersweet.
"It makes me sad to think about leaving this job that I love very much, but it is time," she said.
The announcements come on the heels of Democrat Porter Superior Court Judge Julia Jent resigning last year after serving 21 years on the bench and Porter Superior Court Judge Bill Alexa, also a Democrat, retiring a year earlier and taking with him 15 years of judicial experience.
Gov. Eric Holcomb appointed fellow Republican Valparaiso attorney Jeffrey Clymer to replace Alexa nearly two years ago and named long-time Porter County Deputy Prosecutor Mike Drenth, also a Republican, to replace Jent last year.
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The changes underway will leave Republican Porter Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Thode as the county's senior-most judge with 26 years of experience, followed by Democrat Porter Superior Court Judge David Chidester with 16 years on the bench, according to their court staff.
Local attorney Mitch Peters got a jump this past week on the pack expected to file in as candidates for Bradford's and Harper's seats.
Peters, who serves as a county public defender, announced he is seeking the Democratic nomination for Harper's seat.
"There are good candidates for these jobs," Harper said of her fellow local attorneys.
Those elected will face a learning curve, she said, not just with the legal end of the job, but also the administrative skills needed to oversee a staff and keep cases moving all while attending meetings and trainings. Her circuit court seat has the unique challenge of overseeing the county's juvenile justice system with its full- and part-time staff numbering 100.
"It's a vast, vast amount of work," Harper said.
Bradford said while some of the job becomes repetitive, he was intrigued recently by some interesting legal issues that surfaced while overseeing a murder case from another county.
Bradford said he will not really be hanging up his robes for good at the end of next year. He intends to transition over as a senior judge, which will take him around to various courtrooms across Northwest Indiana to fill in as needed.
Harper is less sure, or at least less revealing, about what she has in mind after walking away from the bench.
"It could get interesting," she said with a chuckle.