Superior Court Judge John Mitchell is leaving the bench after 24 years

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John Mitchell, Judge of the Superior Court of Switzerland and Ohio Counties, looks around his office in the new Switzerland County Courthouse annex. He rises from his chair and wanders out past his staff and down the hallway to the newly renovated courtroom.

“Some of the nicest court facilities in the entire state,” he says over his shoulder. “We’re lucky to have such nice facilities.”

As he turns left and steps into the courtroom, he looks around at the pale yellow walls and the white benches covered with gray carpet and again speaks of the beauty of the court. Sitting behind his bench, he shows off the amplification system that has been installed to help those in the courtroom hear the proceedings.

Then he leans back in the chair and rests his hands in his lap. One can tell that John Mitchell loves his job.

But in a matter of weeks, he won’t have it anymore.

After 24 years of presiding over the Superior Court, Judge Mitchell will retire at the end of December. His retirement will close a long and illustrious history of serving two counties; and it will also mark a historic beginning here in Switzerland County.

When the Indiana Legislature created the Switzerland Circuit Court earlier this year, it gave this county its own court with its own judge and its own prosecutor. Until that time, Switzerland County shared a circuit court judge with Jefferson County – Judge Ted Todd – and a superior court with Ohio County.

Judge John Mitchell.

Although both judges share Switzerland County, Judge Todd’s workload in Jefferson County means that most residents here are more familiar with Judge Mitchell.

But when the Switzerland Circuit was created, it meant that there was no longer a need to share judges; so as of January 1st Judge Todd will serve the Jefferson County Circuit Court only; and Judge Mitchell, a resident of Ohio County, will move into retirement after all those years of service.

“It’s been a really wonderful experience serving the people of Switzerland County,” Judge Mitchell said. “I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time here, and I’ve made some wonderful friendships.”

Originally from Greensburg, John Mitchell attended the old St. Paul High School before his parents moved to Columbus; and then back to Greensburg, where he graduated from Greensburg High School.

He then went on to Wabash College, where he graduated before heading to the Indiana University Law School in Indianapolis.

He graduated from IU Law School in 1969.

How did he find Rising Sun?

“I was looking around for an attorney to start my practice with, and a friend of mine told me that Henry Pictor had a practice in Rising Sun and might be looking for someone,” Judge Mitchell said. “I went down there and he brought me in and I’ve been there ever since. He’s practicing in Batesville now – and I’m still in Rising Sun.”

He continued in private practice in Rising Sun until January 1st, 1985, when he assumed the judgeship of the Superior Court. After winning election in November of 1984, he began serving his first six-year term.

And that led to another term.

And then another.

And finally a fourth.

“It doesn’t seem like I’ve been doing this for 24 years,” the judge smiled. “I’ve had a wonderful time.”

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In terms of changes during his tenure on the bench, Judge Mitchell says that he’s seen plenty.

“One of the biggest things has been that Switzerland County is far more economically healthy now than it was 24 years ago,” the judge said. “The factories across the river and Belterra have really helped make this county better off economically, and that’s been a good thing.”

Why? One only needs to look at the judge’s unselfish motives.

“When people have jobs, then men can pay their child support, which our children need,” he continued. “When I first became judge, there were men who were living in their cars and literally couldn’t pay their support even though they wanted to. That’s extremely rare today. More jobs means more money, and more money means that child support payments are made; and that means that our children have a better standard of living.”

Judge Mitchell said that the case load here in Switzerland County has more than doubled in the past 24 years; which was the big reason that the Indiana Commission on Courts recommended to the Indiana Legislature that this county receive its own circuit.

“They determined that the workload here is sufficient for one judge,” Judge Mitchell said.

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Now that he’s retiring from the bench, John Mitchell said that he doesn’t really have any firm plans, other than to work toward attaining “Senior Judge” status with the state.

“Immediately I’m going to rest a little bit,” he smiles. “I really don’t have any gigantic plans.”

He is a member of the Bishop’s Committee at Grace Episcopal Church in Florence, Kentucky; and his retirement means that he’ll have more time to devote to the work of his church. He also serves as a lay reader and a chalice bearer; so he expects that his church work will also keep him busy.

He is also a member of the Rising Sun Medical Center board of directors; and he is also open to new challenges as the future appears.

He will also spend more time with his wife, Janet; and he also has four step-children from his first marriage: Linda Osborne of Vevay; Allen Bunger of Rising Sun; John Bunger of Rising Sun; and Julia Jimenez of Rising Sun. He also has several grandchildren.

Last Friday night his wife, teaming with the Switzerland County Bar Association and the judge’s staff, threw a surprise party for the judge at Belterra; and more than 175 well wishers attended the proceedings.

“I thought it was our normal Christmas party,” Judge Mitchell laughed. “They were all in on the conspiracy.”

One thing he may not miss is the amount of traveling that he has done between Rising Sun and Vevay for the past 24 years. He normally splits Monday and Tuesday between the two counties; then is in Switzerland County all day on Wednesday and Friday and Ohio County all day on Thursday – but that’s all subject to change depending on his court schedule.

“I’ve hit two deer and a wild turkey driving back and forth,” he laughed. “You figure it’s about a 70 mile round trip, so I’ve accumulated some miles.”

He will also miss his staff here in Switzerland County, which he is very proud of. Marsha Roeschlein and Cheri Weales have been in the judge’s office for many years; and Darlene Morton came to the judge’s office a few years ago after completing her terms as county clerk.

The “new face” in the office is probation officer Jeff Theetge, who serves as the county’s probation officer.

“That’s another thing right there,” Judge Mitchell says proudly. “This county didn’t used to have its own probation officer, but now we do, and it’s a young man who graduated from here, so we gave a local person a job and I’m proud of that.”

So now the days draw down to the end of his 24th year on the bench and the end of his career. The judge is excited about what lies ahead for newly elected Judge Greg Coy, and he will be a big part of the swearing in ceremony that is set for Saturday, December 20th, at 10 a.m. in the courtroom.

“It’s really been wonderful,” the judge says as he hangs up his black robe on the hook behind his office door. “I’m really proud of what we’ve done here.”

– Pat Lanman