2013-01-08 / Front Page

New Owen Circuit Court Judge, Referee Lead All-Woman Staff

Addition Of A Second Courtroom Would Help Local Judicial Process
by Michael Stanley
Staff Writer

N ewly-appointed Owen County Circuit Court Referee Kelsey Hanlon (left) stands alongside Judge Lori Thatcher Quillen, who began her first term as the county’s first-ever female judge on January 1st. (Staff Photo) N ewly-appointed Owen County Circuit Court Referee Kelsey Hanlon (left) stands alongside Judge Lori Thatcher Quillen, who began her first term as the county’s first-ever female judge on January 1st. (Staff Photo) For the first time in three decades, the Owen County Circuit Court has a new sitting judge with the Honorable Lori Thatcher Quillen now presiding over cases on the third floor of the county courthouse in Spencer.

Fellow Owen native Kelsey Hanlon has been appointed to serve as the Owen County Circuit Court Referee, a position formerly held by Judge Quillen.

The pair have met with the Owen County Bar Association since taking office, discussing potential changes aimed at providing a more efficient court system locally.

While the court’s staff has remained much same, the departure of Judge Frank Nardi has resulted in what is now an allwoman cast.

“We’ve always had a good staff and I’ve always been pleased to work with every one of the women who have been here with us. It’s the first time for Owen County (to have an all-woman court). Twenty-seven years ago I was the first woman to practice in Owen County, so it’s not new for me,” Quillen noted. “The great thing about it was we had great people like George Langwell, Allan Fountain, George Mathis and Elliot Hickam. I grew up knowing many of them; my mom was the office manager at Petry and Fuhs when I was a child. They embraced me and it was never a sexist thing in this county. I think the only reason it’s been 30 years is because Judge Nardi served this county so well for those 30 years. I don’t think Owen County is behind the times, I just don’t think the opportunity was there.”

A fellow graduate of Owen Valley High School, Hanlon’s time around the justice system made her an ideal candidate to fill Quillen’s former position.

“We’ve always had a good working relationship with the prosecutor’s office and probation department. That was part of the situation with Kelsey. I saw she had a great understanding of criminal law and working with people and what you need to do in Owen County to work with those individuals,” Quillen said. “We’re obviously a low-income area, we have some poverty, we have some crime and I just appreciated what she could bring. She’s a local girl, which was important to me during my campaign. I’ve known her all of my life, so I’ve watched her grow; I’ve watched her go through Owen Valley High School like I did and became a Lilly Scholar. Just locally, from her desire when she was a probation officer, she was always spoken well of. I knew she could do the job, I knew what the job entailed and knew it wouldn’t be an issue for her.”

Of her numerous duties under the direction of Quillen, Hanlon admitted she is excited to begin working with the county’s drug court program.

“I’m looking forward to the opportunity to have a job where I learn something new everyday – no day is ever going to be the same. I’m particularly looking forward to working with the drug court and juvenile drug court,” she said. “As a probation officer I was the case manager for the adult program... we didn’t have the juvenile program at the time. I saw a lot of really amazing transformations of people and I can hope we can expand on the program Lori started and keep that energized.”

Hanlon’s experience began as a probation officer in Owen County before she left to attend law school. Prior to being appointed to her new position, Hanlon served as a deputy prosecutor in neighboring Monroe County.

“Your mind set is in the shadow of your position. So when I was a probation officer, I kind of looked at it as a law enforcement flavored social work position, really trying to help people get their lives together, stay out of trouble and out of court, maintain employment,” Hanlon explained. “As a deputy prosecutor, I viewed that as being an advocate for victims, for the State of Indiana, so I could be a little more one-sided in my thinking about cases. It wasn’t that I wasn’t pragmatic, but you don’t have to answer to anyone other than the victims and your boss, and feel good about what you’re doing in terms of making the community safe. This is a little different, you have to protect the procedure, protect the rights of the defendants and you’re not an advocate. You just make judgement calls and it’s a little different.”

Judge Quillen admitted that while the court may have weaknesses, she plans to focus on expanding on things she and her staff have done well.

“We just need to look at what works best for us and how we run our calendars. Right now, all of the attorneys are rallying around that,” she said. “In our local offices, from the clerk to the auditor, we have been warmly welcomed. We’ve had several meetings and the commissioners and council, both new and old, have talked to us quite frequently.”

Due to the ongoing handicap accessibility improvement project at the county courthouse, the court services staff have been crammed into available space while not having use of their primary office space for the past 10 months.

“Our biggest need right now is to help them get us back into our office. We have some jury trials coming up, so the council and commissioners are going to have to find a way to get us room,” Quillen added. “Those are the things that are frustrating from our point of view, because we’re both obviously qualified and ready to set the bench and get things going.”

Judge Quillen said she agrees with recent comments made by Indiana District 46 State Representative Bob Heaton about the need to acquiring support and funding to establish a magistrate or second court in Owen County.

“We’ve been chasing that (second) court for quite some time. I think what’s helping us this year more is that our (case) numbers are such that I think they’d be hard pressed, once they’ve given (an extra court) to Monroe County, Clay and Greene to not give us one, because our numbers are there. I think fiscally, it sounds like the state is in pretty good shape. We’ve always been bumped out before because there wasn’t enough money. They’ve found it for others, so I hope this year they find it for us. It is going to have an effect on our local council, because if it’s a second court, as opposed to a magistrate, we’re going to have a new courtroom so there would be extra dollars involved. But whether it’s a magistrate or second court, it’s definitely needed in Owen County just to handle the number of cases. Nothing frustrates us more than to not be able to get them into the courtroom and give them the time they need. It’d be so nice to have more time to look at things and decide cases. That’s always been a frustration as a referee, because locally it costs us an awful lot of money with jail expenses and time. If I’m hearing a case and unable to get them into court, and the referee is not entitled to hear a change of plea at that moment, it creates some issues for the county. So I think the state needs to know it’s time to quit putting the burden on Owen County and step up.”

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