As Allen County prosecutor, he took on adult bookstores – and closed them.
As judge, he took on the county's outdated and overcrowded juvenile detention center – and helped open a new, better one.
But on April 26, Stephen Sims will step down from the Allen County Superior Court bench he has occupied since 1997, apparently ending a career of public service that spanned three decades.
“I'll be 67 in October, our kids and grandkids are out of the state. It's time for a younger person (to step in),” said Sims, who has been judge in the court's Family Relations Division. “I want to express my heart-felt appreciation to my family, my colleagues . . . my staff . . . and the community at large, who I've been privileged to serve.”
Sims was prosecutor from 1983 to 1994 and hearing/magistrate officer in Allen Circuit Court from 1995 to 1996. The Allen County Judicial Nominating Committee, comprising attorneys and laypeople, will send the names of three possible replacements to Gov. Mike Pence, who will then select someone to fill the remainder of Sims' term, which expires in 2014.
.In the 1980s and 1990s, Sims campaigned against adult bookstores and theaters in Fort Wayne. In the mid-1980s he filed a racketeering charge against several of the owners, claiming that more than 40 obscenity convictions since 1981 constituted a pattern. Most eventually closed as the result of an out-of-court settlement.
The attorney for Fort Wayne Books, one of the companies targeted, was Ken Scheibenberger – who later became one of Sims' fellow Superior Court judges.
In 2001, Sims was one of nine judges who ordered county officials to replace the Wood Youth Center on Wells Street with the $30 million Juvenile Justice Center. The County Commissioners had wanted to build a facility costing about $8 million less, but Sims insisted it would be money well spent.
Not long after the facility opened in 2004, he told The News-Sentinel that “When the courthouse opened in 1901 some people said, 'Oh my, that cost a lot of money. But today, we consider it money well spent because it is a magnificent facility. Leadership doesn't come by looking in the rear-view mirror.”
Because the new facility contained not only cells but courtrooms, it eliminated the need to take juveniles to the courthouse for hearings and trials and also allowed court to be held Saturdays – changes Sims said improved efficiency, convenience and security.
County Commissioner Therese Brown, who worked closely with Sims when she was clerk of courts, said Sims “always had a good argument and was sincere, even when he was maneuvering for what he needed. I never experienced his wrath; he was always gracious.”
Chief Deputy Prosecutor Mike McAlexander remembered his former boss as “one of the best public servants we've had in the past 30 years. He was innovative and took the office from mostly part-time to a full-time professional staff.”
Would McAlexander be interested in Sims' job once it's available? “I'm looking at it,” he said.
Magistrate Craig Bobay of Allen Circuit Court is also said to be interested.