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Civil Division judge Heath to fill family judge's shoes

Heath

Allen Superior Court Judge Dan Heath will be moving from the court's Civil Division to family court – taking over the soon-to-be vacant post of Judge Stephen Sims.

Sims retires in late April after about 16 years handling the county's juvenile cases in the Superior Court's Family Relations Division.

Heath, 60, a 1984-graduate of what is now Indiana University's Maurer School of Law, is looking forward to making the switch, which is allowed under Indiana law.

State code permits an elected Allen Superior Court judge to move one time from one division to another. When Sims announced his retirement last month, Heath indicated his desire to make a move. The Allen Superior Court vacancy is now in the Civil Division.

That vacancy will be filled by an appointment by Gov. Mike Pence, after the Allen County Judicial Nomination Commission, headed by Indiana Supreme Court Justice Steven David, recommends three attorneys to fill the position.

However, another sitting Allen Superior Court judge could decide to switch over to Heath's seat, leaving a different vacancy on the bench.

Heath's decision came after a few weeks of rumors regarding Sims' successor, with Allen County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Michael McAlexander or Circuit Court Magistrate Craig Bobay, who handles family relations cases, mentioned as possible replacements.

Both Sims and Heath were elected to the Superior Court bench in 1996, and Heath said that, at the time of the election, he had intended to run for the Family Relations Division slot.

But Sims was coming from a long stint as the county's elected prosecutor and had a criminal law background, as opposed to Heath's largely exclusive civil law experience, Heath said.

So the two men agreed to have Sims run for the juvenile court job, and Heath ran for the civil side.

After 16 years, Heath said he feels it is time for a change and he has remained intrigued by family law over the years.

"This was probably my last opportunity to make a change," he said. "It was probably now or never."

Heath said he looks forward to interacting with a larger segment of the community.

In the past few weeks, Heath has met numerous times with Sims and Allen Superior Court Judge Charles Pratt, who heads up the Family Relations Division and is the chief judge of Superior Court.

Heath said he has toured the Allen County Juvenile Justice Center, poured over the budgets and has been reading up on juvenile and family law issues.

"I've been doing some homework," he said.

On Saturday, Heath was in his courthouse office working on clearing out some pending cases, so as not to leave them for whoever takes over his position.

A former Allen County councilman, Heath touts his good relationship with the council and knowledge of budgets as something that will come in handy in the next few years.

On Friday, Heath sent his resignation to the state, he said.

In a written statement sent to the Journal Gazette Saturday afternoon, Heath said he looks forward to working in the Family Relations Division.

"I have the rare privilege and opportunity to work alongside Judge Pratt in the service of families and children in our community," Heath wrote. "Together, Judge Pratt and I can build on the great work done by Judge Sims over the years. I very much look forward to working with our County Council, our area legislators, school district superintendents, churches, and other community groups to insure that we are doing all the we can for kids in an increasingly complicated world."

In 1998, Judge Vernon Sheldon became the last Allen County judge to retire mid-term. Then-Gov. Frank O'Bannon appointed now-Superior Judge Stanley Levine to replace him.

rgreen@jg.net

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