Chesterton Tribune

Former county commissioner Harper takes public defender position

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

Porter County’s “King of No” may no longer wear the hat of county commissioner, but attorney Robert Harper has made an immediate jump back into public service.

Harper, whose term as Center district county commissioner ended on Dec. 31, will now be working for the county public defender office which appoints attorneys for defendants who do not have the ability financially to hire an attorney on their own.

The resignation of public defender Dolores Aylesworth opened up a position in the office according to Chief Public Defender Ken Elwood, who said the office reviewed a total of about ten applicants.

“I applied for the position and got it. It’s a part-time position and I’m in the general courts all the time.” said Harper. “It’s work I enjoy doing.”

Elwood said he selected Harper based on his nearly 40 years of experience representing individuals in major felony cases.

“It is my job to provide competent representation to people in Porter County charged in crime cases, and by hiring Bob, I feel I certainly have done that,” said Elwood, who was appointed by the county judges as chief public defender in November and a successor to the late James Tsoutsouris.

Harper previously served as a Portage City judge in 1971 and later a county prosecutor in 1974. He shares a law practice firm in Portage with attorney Larry Rogers specializing in criminal defense and personal injury.

Harper officially became an employee of Elwood’s office this Saturday, starting with an annual salary of $40,599, over $1,000 more than he was paid as county commissioner president. Salaries for public defenders range from $27,000 to $53,000 with the top salary going to a public defender for the juvenile courts, Elwood said.

Elwood said he is restructuring the pay and will need to go the council for their approval to move those salaries around, particularly streamlining the pay for the three deputies who handle major felony cases.

“I think it would make sense to make the structure based upon assignment. That’s something that hasn’t happened in the past,” said Elwood.

Addressing possible criticism that the selection may have been politically motivated, Elwood said no matter what elected office Harper holds, Elwood selected him because he believes Harper would be the best choice for the job and has shown a dedication to public service. He said he believes the Porter County courts system is one of the best in the county partly because it possesses a non-partisan attitude.

Harper is a Democrat.

Harper’s opponent, Republican Nancy Adams, took the Center District seat on the three-member board that includes Republican John Evans representing the North District and Democrat Carole Knoblock representing the south.

 

 

Posted 1/3/2011