MOUNT VERNON — Countless citizens have passed by Knox County’s stately Greek revival courthouse over the years. Most have only the rare occasion to enter, perhaps to serve jury duty or handle a probate matter. But for the Knox County Prosecutor’s staff, the courthouse is a familiar stomping ground.
John Thatcher has served as prosecutor since 2005. The Centerburg native manages a team that has an array of duties, most visibly the prosecution of felony cases. But much more than that goes on in the courthouse and at the prosecutor’s offices next door.
Thatcher and his assistants all have specialties, but there is considerable crossover. They try felony cases in Common Pleas Court under the grand jury system. They represent the people in Juvenile Court, which handles everything from traffic tickets to violent crimes. The prosecutor’s office provides civil representation to public officials at the county and township levels and to numerous government agencies, and handles civil litigation cases.
Collection of delinquent property taxes and child support payments fall under the prosecutor’s duties. Abuse and neglect cases involving children and seniors are prosecuted. And assistance is rendered to crime victims and witnesses. Taking on that mixed bag of duties and more is a staff of 10.
Thatcher attended Otterbein College and earned his law degree from Capital University. “I wanted to practice here, and the first thing that came available (in 1992) was an assistant prosecutor position,” he says. “I handled child support enforcement, then moved to felony cases and civil litigation.” After eight years as an assistant prosecutor, Thatcher entered private practice, but he was drawn back. “I had found I really like doing criminal cases,” he recalls. “I was about to be made a partner and had a decision to make. I chose to forego the partnership and run for prosecutor.”
Thatcher was unopposed in the 2004 Republican primary and defeated incumbent Democrat John Baker in the general election. “I really had no idea how much the job entailed,” Thatcher said. “It was a steep learning curve.” He now has two terms under his belt, and is about to start a third after running unopposed in the 2012 primary and general elections. He manages an experienced team, including five assistant prosecutors, a victim advocate and three legal assistants. Thatcher oversees grand jury operations, personally prosecutes some felony cases and tackles a portion of the civil caseload.
Michael Schlemmer is the team’s senior member. He works in the Department of Job & Family Services, but has the title of assistant prosecutor. Schlemmer attended Kenyon College, earned his law degree from Akron University in 1974, and represented several Legal Aid Societies before joining the prosecutor’s staff in 1991. He handled child support issues, children’s services cases, and child protection filings, and since 1999 has specialized in both child and adult protection proceedings.
Prosecutors sometimes view their office as a second home, and for Jennifer Springer, it is literally true. She was born in the old Mercy Hospital, and since 2005 has worked in the same building on East High Street as assistant prosecutor. She studied political science at the University of Kentucky and earned her law degree from Cleveland-Marshall University in 1999. Springer prosecutes adult felony cases and also shares duties with Thatcher and fellow assistant prosecutor Chip McConville on civil matters.
McConville was born in Centerville, studied political science at the University of Illinois, and worked in both the public and private sectors before enrolling at Capital University Law School. He graduated in 2007 and joined Thatcher’s staff that same year. McConville specializes in juvenile delinquency cases, takes on some adult felony proceedings, prepares appellate briefs and makes oral arguments before the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals and the Ohio Supreme Court.
The fourth assistant prosecutor is Jean Stacker, a 1973 graduate of Michigan State who earned a masters in child development and her law degree at Ohio State. After nine years performing legal aid work and six years in children’s services, she joined the prosecutor’s staff in 1996. Her specialty is child support enforcement.
The newest member of Thatcher’s team is Knox County native Aaron Allard, a graduate of Cornell Law School who assisted McConville in Juvenile Court as an intern before passing the bar and joining the staff.
Navigating the legal system is a challenge even for attorneys, and for crime victims and witnesses it can be overwhelming. For that reason, assistance and counseling is made available through the prosecutor’s office. Diana Oswalt devotes her full attention to that process. Rounding out the prosecutor’s staff are legal assistants Lindsay Dennis, Tonya Durbin and Stephanie Ferenbaugh.
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