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Chief deputy comfortable in familiar position

November 13, 2013
Crawford County Prosecutor Cheryl Hillenburg was disappointed when her long-time deputy and even longer-time friend, Greg Inman, announced he was resigning, as the two had worked together for many years in different capacities. However, she couldn't be more pleased with his replacement.

Doug Goerss is the new chief deputy in Crawford County Prosecutor Cheryl Hillenburg's office.
When Doug Goerss, who is from Akron, N.Y, a small town about 40 miles outside of Buffalo, decided to study law, he never imagined he would practice in Crawford County, Ind., a place he had never even heard of. However, his decision to attend Thomas Cooley Law School in Lansing, Mich., after earning a bachelor's degree in political science from the University of Buffalo in 2002, set a series of events in motion that would bring him to Southern Indiana.

It was at Thomas Cooley that Goerss met his eventual wife, Sabrina Bell, a 2000 graduate of Crawford County Junior-Senior High School who earned her undergraduate degree at Indiana Wesleyan in Marion.

After graduating from law school, the couple moved to Buffalo, where Goerss, following passage of the New York state bar exam, was sworn in to practice law in February 2008 and took a position in the Erie County District Attorney's Office.

"One thing you get is a lot of experience very fast," he said, explaining he mostly prosecuted street-level crimes.

The downside, however, is in an area that large — the office itself had between 90 and 100 attorneys when Goerss worked there — "you don't get to know the people," he said. Whereas the prosecutor's office in Crawford County deals with only a handful of sheriff's deputies, town marshals and state police officers, Buffalo has more than 600 officers.

After Goerss and Bell, who had taken a job as an assistant corporation counsel for the city, had a son, Brennan, in 2009, they didn't want to raise him in the city and decided to move to Crawford County to be closer to Bell's parents, Ron and Sherry.

"I was on board," Goerss said, adding that, in Buffalo, they would have had no room for a little boy to play. "Now, we have limitless space."

Although Goerss enjoyed being a prosecuting attorney and hoped to continue in that role, after passing the Indiana bar exam and needing a job, he took a position as a staff attorney with the Division of Child Services, working primarily in the Spencer and Perry County offices. Meanwhile, Bell also worked with the DCS until opening a private practice in English last spring.

When Inman announced he would be leaving the prosecutor's office, Hillenburg, who knew Goerss had experience as a deputy district attorney, asked if he would be interested in the position.

"It is said that timing is everything," Hillenburg said. "When Doug and Sabrina chose to make Crawford County their home, Doug was hopeful that he would be able to continue his legal career in prosecution. Two years after Doug, Sabrina and their son, Brennan, settled in Taswell, the chief trial deputy's position in my office became available."

After talking with Hillenburg, as well as Inman, Goerss was offered the job. He began working part time at the office on July 9 in order to become familiar with all of the cases prior to Inman's departure at the end of August, becoming full time on Sept. 1.

So far, he couldn't be more pleased, explaining he sees himself as a good fit with Hillenburg.

"We treat the job very seriously," he said. "I don't think any of the decisions we make we take lightly."

Hilenburg agreed.

"After meeting with Doug, it was evident to me that his enthusiasm for prosecution, legal experience, professionalism and dedication to serving his home community would make him a marvelous addition to Crawford County and a perfect complement to the prosecutor's office," she said. "I am excited to have Doug join our staff and anticipate his achievements in the office and contributions to the community."

Goerss said he enjoys being back on the prosecutorial side of practicing law, something he knew he wanted to do since visiting a courtroom during a field trip for government class in high school.

"It really impressed me to see someone representing the interests of the state. … To have that level of trust placed in you to represent the interests of society that was harmed by what someone else did to it just always stuck with me," he said. "I like having that trust placed in me.

"I like having the trust of the society I live in placed in me to have discretion of how to handle a harm to them, because, when someone commits a criminal offense, we don't necessarily represent just the victim, we represent the entire society we live in, the state of Indiana …"

Goerss said there are differences between Erie County, N.Y., and Crawford County — one of the biggest being many people here, because of the small population, know either the victims or defendants — but that they still face similar problems. Whereas methamphetamine is a problem locally, crack cocaine is more prevalent in the Buffalo area, he said.

"It's the same kind of thing, but different drugs for different regions," he said.

Having visited the county while dating Bell and early into their marriage, Goerss said he was familiar with the area prior to moving here a couple of years ago. With his wife's practice gaining steam and the couple expecting a second child, along with his new position, he is happy not only to be working in the community, but to be a part of it.

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