Those of us privileged to live in Posey County appreciate the advantages, and inescapability, of a rural court justice system. When it comes to Posey County Probation Officers such as Mark Funkhouser and Courtney Price, the community interconnections are salient. Anonymity is not likely for either the probation officers or those who need their services.
Mark and Courtney both graduated from Mt. Vernon schools and attended area colleges. Mark’s father, Bud, served on the Posey County Council and operated a local hardware store, in which Mark worked, for many years. Courtney is married to County Coroner Jay Price and is the daughter of Sheriff Greg Oeth and nurse practitioner Melody Oeth.
Mark has been a probation officer for 21 years and Courtney for 5. Both of them have been actively involved in numerous areas of public service in Posey County for several years. Mark was instrumental in the establishment of Posey County’s Community Corrections Board. He has volunteered his time and talent to many community organizations such as The Governor’s Commission for Drug-free Indiana, the Mt. Vernon Opportunity Center, Posey County Boys Group Home, Welfare to Work Planning Council and he currently serves as the Regional Director for the Indiana Community Health Worker Association, just to name some of his extensive community involvement.
Courtney is involved with her Point Township Nazarene Church, helps coach the Posey County Special Olympics Dance Team and to honor her mother who fought and defeated breast cancer Courtney is an active volunteer with Relay for Life. Courtney and Jay have a baby boy, Jaxson, and operate Price Excavating Company. Mark has two sons, Mike and Nick, and one grandson.
Mark and Courtney are heavily invested in Posey County both professionally and personally. They care about their community, their probationers and those affected by those who are on probation. As Courtney says:
“Probation is so much more than being an officer of the court, preparing presentences, supervising probationers, and doing field checks. It is getting involved in offenders’ lives, outreaching to community resources and providers, and acting as a bridge between the probationer, the court and the prosecutor. It is acting as a support system, a compass, a counselor, a listening ear, a role model, an educator, an accountability partner, an advocate, a resource director, and more for the probationer. We must be able to get creative and think outside of the box when it comes to each individual case. What may work best for one individual likely will not for the next. We are a career that wears many hats.”
Michelle Fortune and Jason Simmons are Posey County Probation Officers who work out of the same office on the first floor of the courthouse. They and their spouses have been friends for many years. Michelle and Jason both graduated from North Posey High School (the Vikings), Michelle in 1995 and Jason in 1994. Michelle and Jason both graduated from U.S.I. (the Screaming Eagles) in 1999.
Michelle is married to Detective Jeremy Fortune of the Posey County Sheriff’s Department. They have two children, Emily and Reagan. Jason and his wife Christine have two children, Alexa and Logan. Christine is a credit analyst for Old National Bank.
Michelle and Jason give generously of their time, talent and money to several public organizations. Jason and his family attend Frances Xavier Catholic Church and Jason has been a volunteer youth baseball, softball and basketball coach for several years. Jason plays golf and mows a lot of grass at his rural home near New Harmony, Indiana.
Michelle fought and defeated cancer and continues to maintain a regimen of physical fitness. She has competed in Spartan Races and serves as president of the Mt. Vernon F.O.P. Lodge #133 Auxiliary. Michelle is also a volunteer member of the important Posey County Critical Incident Response Team.
Michelle has been with the Posey Circuit Court Probation Department since July 1999. Jason joined the Probation Department in 2003. Together they perform myriad duties while working mainly with adult probationers. At my request, they have listed some of their duties as set forth below:
Conduct pre-hearing and pre-sentence investigations and prepare reports as required by law;
Assist the courts in making pretrial release decisions;
Assist the courts, prosecuting attorneys, and other law enforcement officials in making decisions regarding the diversion of charged individuals to appropriate non-criminal alternatives;
Furnish each person placed on probation a written statement of the conditions of probation and give instructions regarding how those conditions are to be met;
Supervise and assist persons on probation consistent with conditions of probation imposed by the court;
Bring to the court’s attention any modification in the conditions of probation considered advisable;
Notify the court when a violation of a condition of probation occurs;
Cooperate with public and private agencies and other persons concerned with the treatment or welfare of persons on probation, and assist them in obtaining services from those agencies and persons;
Keep accurate records of cases investigated by the probation officer and of all cases assigned by the court and make these records available to the court upon request;
Collect and disburse money from persons under supervision according to the order of the court, and keep accurate and complete accounts of those collections and disbursements;
Assist the court in transferring supervision of a person on probation to a court in another jurisdiction; and
Perform other duties required by law or as directed by the court.
During the course of performing these duties, a Probation Officer often takes on other roles such as social worker, therapist, and broker of services. Although probation officers are not allowed to give legal advice they must be knowledgeable in many areas of the law as often times they become witnesses and must testify in Court.
Posey County’s six probation officers work as a team. The fact that long-time friends can collaborate on these important matters provides even better public service.
I am pretty sure my high school English teacher was at least fifty years of age when she was born. For the rest of us a period of childhood was mandatory. We all experienced night sweats over appearing in public partially clothed or forgetting to complete our homework. It may appear there are perfect teenagers who have clear skin and clear consciences. However, no one escapes the excruciating agony of youth’s bad fortune and bad judgment. That is why societies have always made special arrangements for childhood indiscretions. And that is why Posey County has Juvenile Probation Officer Shawnna Rigsby.
Shawnna stands as a five-foot tall Colossus of Rhodes between the Scylla of juvenile detention and the Charybdis of adult prison. She is our legal system’s cartilage between the adult world of responsibility and our acknowledgement that those under eighteen are as green in their brains as they are in their bones.
Of course, youngsters can cause great harm to others or themselves if their behavior is not monitored and modified. Society must protect itself even while recognizing the need to apply different standards to those who life has not yet seasoned. These two equally important goals are Shawnna’s mandates.
For fourteen years as a member of the Posey Circuit Court staff Shawnna has received countless late night calls from police officers, mental health workers, caseworkers with the Department of Family and Children, school officials and the public requiring her to drop whatever she was doing, sleeping for example, and deal with emergency situations such as fights, drugs, run-a-ways and bad parents whenever children needed care and shelter.
Indiana law does not allow children, in most cases, to be placed in jail. There are a few cases, serious crimes such as murder or rape for example, where a person less than eighteen can be housed with adults. These are extremely rare incidences in our small county and require the judge’s approval. Usually, Shawnna must seek safe and proper housing for children other than jail.
Shawnna has valid credentials for her job and proof that she knows how to rear children. She and her husband Heath have a daughter, Lexie, who is currently practicing law and a son, Cameron, who is attending classes at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
Shawnna helps Heath who is the General Manger and Golf Professional at Mt. Vernon’s Western Hills Country Club. Together Shawnna and Heath help families throughout our county.
As Shawnna puts it:
“I basically have one job: Keeping the youth of Posey County out of the Department of Corrections. And we do everything within our means to do that. We help. We rehabilitate. We tell them life doesn’t have to be this hard; that they have the ability to change anytime they choose. We help make things better. But it isn’t all sunshine, rainbows and unicorns. Some children require a bit more convincing that it’s always best to do the right thing. And we can do that too.”
Gentle Reader, you and I remember what Shawnna experiences every day:
“And sometimes it means putting them on house arrest or in secure detention to help them understand that society will not tolerate violent criminal behavior. But mostly, we remember that the juvenile brain is not like an adult brain. And juveniles are forever making dumb decisions. Really, really stupid decisions. And we try to keep those dumb decisions at a minimum until they are about 25 and their brains are finally done. And we live for the days when they walk into the office and say ‘Whoa! I was an idiot! Thank you.’ And again, I think, ‘Man, I love this job.’”
Finally, most people walk out of Shawnna’s office with the words, “I hope I never see you again!” and she always heartily agrees!
That’s what we at the Posey Circuit Court call our Chief Probation Officer, Rodney Fetcher. Rodney started with the court in October 1988. Rodney is the true and perfect Factotum. He can do and is willing to do any needed task at the court. His official duties are to oversee our Posey County Probation Department with its total of six probation officers who counsel probationers, prepare pre-sentencing reports for the judges and administer drug-tests. Rodney is also responsible for administering the intra and interstate probationer transfer functions for Posey County. In the real world of small, rural courts Rodney prepares budgets and reports, he installs and fixes court computers and video and audio technology. He makes movies and moves furniture. He rearranges offices and helps with juries. The list is endless. Suffice it to say the courts of Posey County would not function nearly as well if Rodney did not function as well as he does.
In his role as Chief Probation Officer Rodney’s main duty is to supervises those who supervise people placed on probation by Posey County’s judges. But Rodney does have a life beyond the courts. He has one son and two grandchildren. He has been a sports official for thirty-four years. From tee ball to semi-professional football Rodney serves as a referee and umpire for the sports of football, baseball, basketball and softball. Just last month he umpired the National Softball Association’s Girls Class B World Series which was held in Evansville, Indiana. Rodney also serves as a member of the Posey County Correction Board and was the Director of the Posey County Group Home for Boys for many years.
Rodney is one of those unusual people who remembers virtually every probationer he has ever supervised. He calls them by their first names and takes a real interest in their success. From restitution to drug testing to work crews, from counseling to back-sliding, Rodney’s unique character aids Posey County’s citizens who have fallen short to get back on their feet. Of course, he and his fellow probation officers do not save everyone. However, in our small county everyone they do save makes a significant improvement in the lives of the probationers and their victims while our whole county is safer and happier due to Rodney and his department’s efforts.
Just kidding; you can’t. However, if one should be so inclined as to try, the starting point would be Posey Circuit Court Bailiff and Posey Circuit and Superior Courts Jury Administrator Linda Fetcher. Linda just started her new position in June 2016. She took over from Dr. John Emhuff who served in both roles, summa cum laude, for fifteen years. Dr. John will be a tough act to follow. Linda has hit the ground running.
Linda and Gene Fetcher have been married fifty-four years and have three children, seven grandchildren and two great grandchildren. So, potential jury service evader, do not attempt some “the dog ate my homework” excuse. Linda has heard them all.
While Linda may live in Wadesville, Indiana where the gas pumps outnumber the residents. Do not assume she is not worldly. Linda has traveled to twenty foreign countries, several of them more than once, due to her involvement with Academic Year in America. Through this foreign student exchange program Linda has hosted more than thirty young people from numerous countries who lived with Linda and Gene during an academic year. Linda also has heard excuses in several languages. She has also gained valuable experience while serving as a volunteer board member of the Posey County Council on Aging.
Jurors in Posey County’s two courts are selected randomly via a computer program from Posey County residents who are at least eighteen years old. The lists are compiled automatically from the rolls of the Bureau of Motor Vehicles and the Indiana Department of Revenue.
From a general “venire” composed of these two groups Linda sends out 500 notices each month. Posey County has about seventeen thousand potential jurors and jury trials are not a common way to resolve legal matters. You can see that an opportunity to assist in the administration of justice is a rare thing, relax.
In Posey County these rare events usually last about two days. Posey County has not had a jury trial last more than two weeks in the thirty-five years I have been judge. Also, Indiana law allows a potential juror to defer her/his service for a year upon a simple written request which Linda brings to the judge’s attention.
Should you be so fortunate as to receive a greeting from Linda I think you should see it as an opportunity for an interesting and rewarding experience. If not, Linda can see that for at least a year the excitement is delayed. And by the way, if you are called to serve and do so Indiana law gives one a two-year exemption from future jury service.
Katrina S. Mann has served Posey County for forty years. She has worked in the County Assessor’s office, the Prosecuting Attorney’s office, County Court and Circuit Court. She has been a bailiff, probation officer, transcriptionist and court reporter.
Katrina has experience in every aspect of all court reporting functions. Currently she is the resident expert in criminal proceedings, guardianships and probate (estate) matters. Litigants and even attorneys rely upon Katrina for help with complicated questions that ofttimes nobody else seems to know how to answer. Judges also sometimes look to Katrina for help in dealing with the briar patch of arcane legal jargon and convoluted regulations. I know one judge quite well who turns to her frequently and has for forty years.
Katrina grew up in West Franklin in what once was rural Posey County. Society has unrelentingly encroached upon Katrina’s bucolic bliss. Today the once small settlement of West Franklin looks more like the west side of Evansville. Regardless, Katrina and her family continue to enjoy the home they have had since before the power plant started operations.
It is not possible to overstate the critical role Katrina has played in the Posey Circuit Court during my service on the Bench. She is a person of absolute integrity, reliability, discretion and sound judgment. She has always put the needs of the Court and the people we serve above her own. This has been good for the public but sometimes not for Katrina.
Katrina is a graduate of Mt. Vernon High School and has attended the University of Southern Indiana. Through hard work on her own time she has acquired numerous skills in the use of modern court technology such as Sten-O-Cat Court Reporting that is required in Indiana for death penalty cases.
Katrina is quiet, patient and friendly. Should one need help with a criminal, or probate or guardianship matter they should first consult their lawyer. However, if you want to know where the Judge goes for help, check with Katrina.