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Monroe County Judge Kenneth Todd resigning after 40 years


Judge Kenneth Todd stands in his office. Courtesy Photo

The last time Judge Kenneth Todd ran for re-election, in 2014, he was conflicted about the possibility of another six years on the bench. 

One night he was walking out his office door and turned to look around before switching off the light. He realized he had done that same thing almost every night for 35 years and wasn’t ready to do it for the last time, he said. 

His term doesn’t end until 2020, but Todd, 73, said he feels like now is his time to go. A few months ago he realized he wasn’t being as patient on the bench as he thinks he should be, he said. 

Gov. Holcomb will appoint a new judge to finish the rest of Todd’s term. Todd plans to resign Oct. 15, but said he told the governor he would stay on a little longer if necessary. 

Todd’s wife, Bonnie, has wanted him to retire for years, he said. They plan to retire to Bonnie’s family’s house on Lake Shafer in Monticello, Indiana, with their Labradoodle, Gabe, and two cats, Vincent and Paxton. 

Leaving Bloomington after 55 years will be bittersweet for many reasons, Todd said. One is the people he’ll leave behind, such fellow Monroe County Judge Marc Kellams, his trusted friend and colleague of almost 40 years.

Throughout their friendship, he has always put Kellams as his emergency contact on various forms, Todd said.

“He has been a pillar of strength in my life, and someone I knew I could always count on,” Todd said. 

Many would say the same of Todd. 

Colleagues say Todd’s legacy after 40 years on the Monroe County Circuit Court will undoubtedly be the Drug Treatment Court, a court program he led the way in creating in the 1990s. He also helped create the Mental Health Treatment Court, similar to the drug court, in 2014. 

When Todd first took the bench in 1979, he was struck by how many cases seemed to involve drugs or alcohol, he said. So he wrote a survey that he distributed in his court for two years about the influence of drugs or alcohol on a case. He said his admittedly unscientific data led to the same conclusion as many studies since — that 70 to 80 percent of people in criminal court are there, directly or indirectly, because of alcohol or drugs. 

The Monroe County Drug Treatment Court officially began in November 1999, and Todd was the presiding judge, on top of his regular caseload, for the first eight years. 

A drug court provides a structured program to help defendants with alcohol and drug dependency problems. In Monroe County, participants stay in the program for at least two years. If they successfully graduate from the program and remain sober for one year after, their case is dismissed. 

A 2007 study of five Indiana drug courts found that in Monroe County, drug court participants were 67 percent less likely to re-offend than non-participants. 

“The two hours I spent with drug court participants during the week was the best part of my week, and my involvement with drug court is the best thing I’ve done on the bench,” Todd said. 

Todd said his time on the bench has made him more aware of his own mistakes. He sees his own imperfections in the people in his court, he said, especially in drug court. He smoked and was addicted to tobacco for many years before successfully quitting Nov. 9, 2005. 

“The way they stall off getting involved in treatment, I stalled off getting involved in treatment," Todd said. “The way they stall off quitting, I stalled off quitting.” 

When Todd came to IU in the 1960s, during the Vietnam War, male students were required to be in ROTC for their first two years. Todd stayed in ROTC for the duration of his college career and continued on to IU law school, before working as an attorney for the air force for four years around the U.S. 

He said he wanted to be a trial attorney because he grew up watching “Perry Mason,” a 1950s and '60s legal drama TV show, and that formed his picture of a lawyer. He returned to Indiana when his father died in November 1973, and a Bloomington lawyer he knew from law school convinced him to stay and join his firm. 

A few years later, Todd was a probate commissioner, like an assistant judge, for then-Judge Nat Hill. When Hill took a few months off in the summer of 1977, Todd filled in for him full-time. 

Todd remembers where he was and what he was doing when he got a call about running for judge in 1978. He was in the Indiana Memorial Union, disc-jockeying for a freeform radio station. 

“There were probably about 14 people who listened to it,” he joked. 

Todd said he didn’t think he would spend the rest of his career as a judge. But during his second term, he realized the job fit him well and he enjoyed having the opportunity to help people better their lives.

“A judge doesn’t make a difference in somebody’s life,” Todd said. “You can give someone an opportunity to make a difference in their own life, and then it’s up to them.” 

He said he tells defendants in his courtroom the same.

In the 1980s, Todd was part of a group of young, ambitious people working in the Monroe County Courthouse. The group included Judge Marc Kellams, former probation officer Angela Parker, former probation officer and court administrator Viki Thevenow and Judge John Baker, now on the Indiana Court of Appeals. 

The group worked together during a pivotal time for the Monroe County court, shortly after it transitioned to a unified court system, and they all helped usher in the new system — one of the first of its kind in the state.

“I don’t think I’ve worked with another team of people that creative, excited and passionate about wanting to make a difference,” Thevenow said. 

Todd, Kellams, Thevenow and Parker all talk about those years as a kind of glory days, full of thrill, hope and hard work. 

“There’s a certain nostalgia associated with that time because we were all young, incredibly ambitious and energetic,” Parker said. “We had kind of an ‘all for one and one for all’ mentality.” 

Parker recalls one moment in the late '80s or early '90s that demonstrates the kind of judge Todd has been, she said. 

The two were driving to visit the work release center and stopped in a 7-Eleven. As soon as they walked in, two or three people in the store came over to talk to Todd, she said. Parker said she thinks that exemplifies the relationship he had with the people in his court and in the community.

“People knew, and know, that he really cared about what happened to them,” she said.

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