Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Opinion

March 11, 2014

MAUREEN HAYDEN: Prosecutors' advocate was quiet man of steel

Highly regarded Steve Johnson dies at age 66

(Continued)

Tears were shed for him at the Statehouse. Some came from a Logansport lawmaker, Sen. Randy Head, who’s married to that Cass County prosecutor who called Johnson “Superman.”

Head said Johnson had to come to his rescue years ago, when as an inexperienced young prosecutor Head was embroiled in a difficult drug case involving a witness threatened with death. Head said Johnson’s expert knowledge of the law helped save the day.

Years later, as a legislator, Head saw Johnson’s other role — as one of the Legislature’s respected expert witnesses.

“If there was an issue that aroused a lot of passion, if there was controversy and people upset, Steve Johnson always brought calm to the debate,” Head said. “He was able to correct things so people were having a discussion about the issue and not about the personalities.

“That’s incredibly valuable here, where we have a lot of strong personalities and a lot of controversy,” Head added.

Evidence came in the form of Larry Landis, longtime advocate for Indiana’s public defenders, who was one of Johnson’s most trusted partners in the crime-and-punishment debates. Together they illustrated the role of civil debate in our messy democracy.

Johnson loved his work, but he loved his family more. He spoke often of how proud he and his wife of 47 years, Susie, were of their four children and eight grandchildren.

Their loss is Indiana’s loss, too.

“He was such a gentleman,” Head told me, paying his colleague what may be the ultimate compliment. “More people ought to raise their sons to be just like Steve Johnson.”

Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for CNHI newspapers in Indiana, including the Kokomo Tribune. She can be reached at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com. Follow her on Twitter @MaureenHayden.

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