More than a decade ago, Karen Richards and J. Michael Loomis faced off for the Republican nomination to run for Allen County prosecutor.
It was 2002, and Richards handily defeated Loomis and another challenger, Nikos Nakos, with 57 percent of the vote.
Now the two are squaring off again, and Richards, the current Allen County prosecutor, is putting her record compiled over 11 years in the office up against Loomis, who has been in private practice.
The first woman elected to the job, Richards had been in the Allen County Prosecutor’s Office in a variety of positions since March 1981, when she came on board as a deputy prosecutor. Having started out in the misdemeanor division, Richards worked her way up to handling felonies and created a unit devoted to handling sex crimes before she ran for office the first time.
Our office has been tough on crime, Richards said. We’ve been good advocates for the victims and open to pursuing new treatments and solutions for people who have addictions and other mental health issues.
Since her election, Richards has created a financial crimes unit in the office, as well as a team to investigate child deaths.
I’ve done a lot of things to advocate for victims, she said, adding she believes she brought the office back to a place of sensitivity and advocacy.
We have been very responsive to new issues as they have arisen, Richards said.
Loomis, a one-time chief deputy under former Allen County Prosecutor Robert W. Gevers II, resigned from the office in August 2001.
He previously was Gevers’ senior trial counsel and has also was a deputy prosecutor in Marion County.
A chief deputy prosecutor, Loomis said he handled homicide cases almost exclusively.
He points to Allen County’s historic homicide rate in 2013 as part of a reason to get rid of the current prosecutor.
In 2013, Allen County had its deadliest year on record, with 45 homicides. The grim record surpassed 1997’s high of 44.
Gevers was prosecutor in 1997, and Loomis was his chief deputy.
We’ve lost deterrent value, collectively in the community, in law enforcement, Loomis said.
Loomis said he began talking to some local public safety and law enforcement officials, then was hired as a legal analyst for an Indianapolis television station during the David Bisard trial.
Bisard, a former Indianapolis Metropolitan Police officer, was convicted of driving drunk while on duty and causing the death of a motorcyclist.
The case was moved to Allen County because of pre-trial publicity.
After Bisard’s trial was over, Loomis began entertaining the thought of running for prosecutor as he saw the county’s homicide rate continue to climb.
I believe I can bring a lot to the prosecutor’s office by my previous experience, he said.
As he did in 2002, Loomis is pushing for the seating of a near-permanent grand jury, something he believes will address the homicide issue.
Loomis believes the subpoena powers of the grand jury, and the relative secrecy of the process, will provide cover for witnesses who may be reluctant to come forward with information.
The vast majority of homicide witnesses Loomis said he encountered as a prosecutor wanted to be helpful but were often scared.
Homicide witnesses are concerned about being labeled a snitch and are often in fear for their own lives, Loomis said.
Richards believes there may be a time to use grand juries to handle cases in which the public should have the opportunity to weigh in on a community issue or a community standard.
But she sees the use of grand juries as investigative tools in homicide cases as a giant waste of taxpayer dollars and time and said they are used rarely in Indiana to charge homicides.
It’s really a waste of money for no real purpose, she said.
Richards is quick to point out her stewardship of the taxpayers’ money – with no budget increase sought during her tenure.
We have excellent career prosecutors and have done this without ever having a budget increase, she said. It speaks well of my leadership and the hard work of everybody in the office that we have been able to do as much as we have without a budget increase.
Loomis would like to see the elected prosecutor go back to County Council for a budget increase, in part to restructure the office and increase the number of deputy prosecutors.
While the County Council can say no, it is important for taxpayers to feel safe in their own home, Loomis said, and a beefed up prosecutor’s office would contribute to that.
Richards said it’s unlikely a funding increase would be granted and suspects she may actually be asked to trim an already-tight budget.
For every dime I get (in funding from the county), somebody else is not going to get that dime, she said.
Some of Loomis’ campaign ideas – having top prosecutors present at every homicide scene – already occur, Richards said.
Since she has been county prosecutor, there are three prosecutors – one senior, one mid-level and one new – present at all homicide scenes, child death scenes that are not immediately ruled as an accident or illness and any suspicious deaths.
He’s changing something where we already have a better plan than what he’s proposing, she said.
Loomis advocates for an increase in the prosecutor’s office investigative division and said he wants to bolster the office in general.
Some criminal cases just have to be tried, he said. They have to be filed, and they have to tried. I think there needs to be a more efficient way of reviewing cases brought by law enforcement officers.
Richards said that as an advocate for the victim the prosecutor must find the most appropriate resolution, whether a trial or a plea agreement.
I think we try the cases that need to be tried and always have, she said. If you’re not being an advocate for the victim, and you’re storming ahead on your own agenda, you’re not helping them.
This campaign is Richards’ fourth run at elected office, with the first three successful bids for the county’s top law enforcement officer.
Loomis ran unsuccessfully for Congress in a caucus in 1989, in primary elections in 1994 and 2000, and in a Boone County judge’s race in 1990.
Most of the salary for county prosecutor is paid by the state.
In 2012, the job paid $130,080 with Allen County having chipped in an additional $5,000, officials said.