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Transition underway at prosecutor’s office

Transition underway at prosecutor’s office
Transition underway at prosecutor’s office
J. Otto Schalk prepares to take over the Harrison County Prosecutor’s office Jan. 1. He is believed to be the youngest person ever elected to the position in Indiana. Photo by Ross Schulz (click for larger version)

Newly-elected Harrison County Prosecutor J. Otto Schalk will officially move into the office in the Justice Center in Corydon on Monday, but the transition to his new position began shortly after his Nov. 2 General Election victory.
Schalk said he began slowly assembling a team of people for the office after the election. While some positions remain to be filled, including two investigators, Schalk said outgoing Circuit Court Judge H. Lloyd (Tad) Whitis will serve as chief deputy and Nicholas Haverstock will be deputy prosecutor.
‘I’m really excited about having Tad (on staff),’ Schalk said. ‘He has a wealth of knowledge and experience.’
Schalk’s goal is to have a well-rounded prosecutor’s office with defense experience.
‘It’s important to know the other side as well,’ he said.
He said there will not be any of the same attorneys leftover from the previous prosecutor, Dennis Byrd. Some of the attorneys, Schalk said, left on their own accord. Schalk defeated Byrd, who had been prosecutor for the last eight years, by a margin of less than 500 votes.
Schalk contributed the victory to a strong GOP election locally and nationwide.
‘I went door-to-door a lot, and everyone was fired up about the downstairs of the Justice Center (jail),’ he said. ‘They would ask, ‘Are we doing everything we can?’ People wanted a breath of fresh air.’
Schalk complimented Byrd for being open and friendly about the transition.
‘He’s approached me several times, making himself available; it’s very appreciated,’ he said.
Schalk said he’s not intimidated by the caseload but the biggest challenge will be working long hours while his staff is not yet complete and everyone adjusts accordingly.
‘That’s probably going to be our biggest struggle,’ he said.
Schalk said no specific case will be his focus in January but he has been keeping a close eye on what’s happening in the Harrison County Jail.
‘Rod and I are committed to making sure those problems don’t re-occur,’ he said, referring to Rodney Seelye who was elected sheriff and will begin his duties Jan. 1 as well. ‘Both of us will be doing a little clean-up … We can’t change the past, but we can make changes for the future.’
He said the new team will begin tackling that issue as soon as next week.
Schalk said he wants the office to be totally paperless within his first two years in office.
‘Floyd County’s done it; there’s no reason why we can’t follow suit,’ he said. ‘I want it to be technologically as proficient as possible.’
Schalk also said he’s excited to work with the juvenile division of the office. He said he hopes to implement a program in the county schools.
‘I always enjoyed school; I have little tolerance for excessive truancy,’ he said.
He also said he wants to create an interactive website for the office, which would be a good opportunity for people to see what the office is doing, Schalk said.
Schalk said he plans to make himself ‘very’ available to the public.
‘Harrison County should expect, and will see, a very visible prosecutor’s office,’ he said.
Schalk, a 2006 University of Kentucky graduate, lives in Corydon with his wife, Allison.
He said he’s going to miss working at Austin Law Office with Maryland Austin.
‘Maryland has showed me a lot,’ he said. ‘I couldn’t ask for a better person to work for.’