Chesterton Tribune



Prosecutor Gary Germann debriefs on first year in office

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Gary Germann is one year and 24 days into his term as Porter County Prosecuting Attorney, but it’s hardly his first rodeo.

Germann was actually appointed Prosecuting Attorney in 1973 and later elected in his own right, serving until 1982. He then did a short stint in the law offices of Harris Welsh & Lukmann (“I learned so much from Mike Harris and Bob Welsh, they’re good lawyers, great lawyers”), before embarking on a 37-year career as a criminal defense attorney.

Which raises the question: why, at the age of 70, when most folks have already retired, did Germann run again for the demanding and very public office of Prosecuting Attorney? “I felt like there were a lot of changes that needed to be made,” he told the Chesterton Tribune. “I felt I would give voters the chance to make that choice.”

Germann points specifically to the previous administration’s policies with respect to non-violent defendants suffering from substance addiction, those arrested, say, on a charge of possession of a hypodermic syringe. “In 1975, you could not know people with substance issues,” he said. “But now all of us know someone who’s been adversely impacted by addiction.”

And Germann is frank about his personal interest in “restoring” addicts who’ve run afoul of the legal system. “I dealt with clients, who are really decent people, who had serious addiction problems. I felt the pain of their parents. If I had a client who was using heroin, I would tell the parents, ‘Don’t bond him out, leave him in there.’”

So Germann is excited about the chemical dependency program at the Porter County Jail created by Sheriff Dave Reynolds--“a cutting-edge sheriff,” he emphasized, whose achievements at PCJ are “nothing short of amazing.” The idea of the program is to give inmates the tools they need to keep themselves clean, straight, and out of jail. “In the long run we’ll save money and have healthy, working people in the community.”

“I speak to the graduates of the program,” Germann said. “I want them to know I’m there to help them, to restore them. These people are smart. They’re nice. They laugh and joke and cheer for one another. There’s a balance that needs to be struck, of course. Holding people accountable but helping to restore them. Then there are the people who cross the line, and we have to take the steps to protect the community.”

“Our jail population is way down,” Germann added. “We have the people there who should be there. I’m glad to be a part of this.”


A year into office, Germann’s butting his head against one intractable bureaucratic problem: “We’re woefully understaffed.” The Tippecanoe County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, serving a community comparable in size to Porter County, with a comparable caseload, has a staff of 70, he said. Germann’s own staff totals 40. He plans, accordingly, to ask the County Council and Commissioners for authority to hire seven new attorneys and nine new assistants, the latter of whom he calls the “backbone of the office.”

Meanwhile, Germann’s staff is working on the establishment of a truancy court, an idea originally promoted by retired Circuit Court Judge Mary Harper. “Truancy is a huge problem,” he said. “I was surprised by what I was hearing and learning, the numbers. We need a program to address the issue and brainstorm solutions for prevention. That’s crucial, because if kids aren’t in school, they missing out socially. Statistically, if they’re not going to school, by the time they’re in their 20s they’re in prison.”

Germann is also hoping to create a cyber crimes investigation unit, staffed--he’s thinking--by college kids. It can take “weeks or months” for the Porter County Sheriff’s Police or the Indiana State Police to find the time to download the content and data from a defendant’s or suspect’s cell phone, he said. “I’d like to reduce that to maybe hours. We’ll hire college students, pay them $10 an hour. The key is students. Not every county has a university. We’ve got two.”

And Germann’s office is implementing a statutorily mandated child fatality review team. “Every time there’s a death of a child, anyone under 18”--by drowning, for example, or overlay--the team will oversee the local law enforcement agency’s investigation of the fatality.

First Year

Germann counts as one of his early achievements a re-alignment and re-calibration of the office, particularly his pick for Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney: Armando Salinas, who came to Porter County from Lake County, where he was on special assignment with the U.S. Attorney’s Office; as well as his hire of Mary Ryan, who’d been serving as Starke County Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney.

Ryan, he said, probably “has more experience than anyone here in terms of jury trials.”

Eleven months later the team of Salinas and Ryan would be instrumental in convicting Christopher Dillard of the murder of Nicole Gland, in the highest profile trial in Porter County in years. “The people I work with facilitate,” Germann said. “Just putting the right people in the right place. That’s highly important for the office.”

Germann himself tried a Level 1 rape case in October, and secured a conviction. “I think it’s important for the community to see me actively involved,” he said.

One issue of sorts did arise early in Germann’s administration: over his 37 years as a defense attorney he represented hundreds of clients, some of whom have cases now pending in Porter County. A notable example: Don Johnson, who’s facing multiple felony counts in connection with alleged securities and broker-dealer violations. These cases--“maybe 10” of them--Germann’s office “conflicted out of,” and are now being pursued in other jurisdictions. “I stopped trying cases in August 2018, right before the election,” Germann said. “Most of the conflicted cases were at the beginning of 2019 because they were carry-ons. Now we hardly see that at all.”

One other thing followed Germann into the office: the natural suspicion which police officers tend to have of defense attorneys. “When I took office, I did not feel like I was in a position to be fully trusted by law enforcement, coming from criminal defense,” he said. “But after a full year I don’t feel that anymore. I feel the police have learned to trust me. That just takes time.”

A Vision

“I love my job,” Germann said. “It’s not even going to work for me. I work with great people, amazing people, from child support to criminal. Tomorrow I want to be a better lawyer than I am today. I’m thinking about 10 years down the road. What can we do better? Have can we be more efficient? We have real people we take care of. I want to bring a vision to the office, a vision for the community and a vision for law enforcement.”


Posted 1/24/2020




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