A Salute To Evansville Juvenile Court Judge the Honorable Brett Niemeier


Zach Stuard
CCO Writer

Judge Brett Niemeier faced an incredible challenge in 2012 when it was time for him to defend his seat on the bench against attorney Barry Blackard. Blackard wanted to make sure that voters knew his name and would not forget it on Election Day. The months leading up to November were filled with radio ads, television ads, yard signs, and decals all bearing Blackard for Judge. Some of the ads were very negative in nature. By the time the dust had settled Blackard had outspent Niemeier`s campaign by $200,000 and over a 3:1 ratio. Niemeier took a different positive approach and built a grassroots campaign which focused on the work he had done and the community boards and family projects he had worked with. In the end, Niemeier, against seemingly insurmountable odds defended his seat and beat Blackard by twenty percentage points for another 6 year term. Niemeier has said that his victory was a credit to his volunteers, hard work, honesty and integrity; things money cannot buy.

Judge Niemeier, it would seem, has a calling to bring those same qualities to troubled youth of our community. Judge Niemeier over his next term in office would like to create a mentoring program for his offenders through collaborations with agencies like the YMCA, the Boys and Girls Club, and the Dream Center. The Judge would love to have every day hard working honest people mentor these students, teaching them respect and integrity while playing ball, lifting weights, swimming, and any other number of positive activities the children could gain interest in. “The way to influence a teenager is through relationships. Kids usually model their behaviors by looking at peers, older siblings, or parents. Though peers are the number one influence in a teenager`s life, we have to have quality adults willing to spend time with these kids to challenge them to grow in a more positive and productive manner.

Poverty is one of the leading factors as to why these teens struggle. It is difficult for some people to understand just how poverty can oppress people. A lot of these kids and their families lack the necessary means to obtain most jobs. Things like clothing, transportation and interviewing skills all are affected by poverty and hinder these people’s chances of getting jobs. We as a community have to provide opportunities to these children to give them a boost and better set them up for success to break the cycle of poverty. If kids fail at school or in their home life they usually continue to fail as adults. This hurts them, their families and our entire community.”

Judge Niemeier worked with children even before he started his professional career as a deputy prosecutor specializing in child abuse cases. When Niemeier turned eighteen he decided to become a Big Brother to help mentor and guide children. The decision for Judge Niemeier came after his father’s passing during Niemeier’s high school years. His participation in Big Brothers is one of the reasons why he wants to create a mentoring program for the Court. Another project that Judge Niemeier is currently working on is to resolve truancy issues burdening the Vanderburgh County School Corporation. Judge Niemeier has met with EVSC officials and Prosecutor Nick Hermann in an effort to get the court system involved in these issues by having the state to prosecute parents of elementary school aged students that have a high rate of truancy. Over the years Niemeier has learned that a child`s truancy problems start in their first year of school. There is evidence suggesting that truancy is a learned behavior. Judge Niemeier said, “If a child misses more than 25 days of kindergarten then they miss about the same amount of school days as a sophomore in high school. In other words, however many days a kid misses early in their education will be continued throughout their educational career.”

Niemeier wishes also to work with parents to help them realize it is indeed a habit and to help them better understand the importance of attendance in relation to success academically. Niemeier hopes, at the high school level, to focus on freshmen and find ways to help bridge the gap between middle school and high school, easing their transition. Judge Niemeier’s effort will offer services to family members, such as mentors, counseling services, and other wrap around services to assist these kids in receiving their high school degree. Judge Niemeier hopes to kick off the program by the start of next school year.

Judge Niemeier also works with the Alternative High School, AIS, located in what used to be Evansville’s North High School. Judge Niemeier recognizes that the standard method of education is not necessarily the best for every student. At AIS students come to attend school and ultimately receive their diplomas in a different atmosphere then that found in the other high schools in the area. Judge Niemeier meets once a week with students and their parents to make an effort to resolve issues the student may be having. It quickly became evident that these families need more than just someone to talk to so the Judge is hoping to team up with Southwestern Behavioral to locate a counselor at the school to facilitate the needs of these families. Some of the biggest challenges facing families are money and transportation. Of this Niemeier spoke, “If agencies had offices located at the school it would provide a direct line of assistance and would eradicate the need for transportation.”
Niemeier believes that AIS has gotten a bad rap and that most students that attend AIS are not troublemakers. Many of these students attend AIS simply because they are failing in the traditional school model. “We have found that there are many different reasons as to why some students struggle with the traditional school model. Some of these reasons include phobias and social problems. We want to provide smaller more intimate class sizes, sometimes no more than 10 students per class for these students to be able to overcome their adversity.”

As we know adversity can be one of the biggest builders of strength and it seems as though Judge Niemeier recognizes this. The Alternative High School provides a place for these students to graduate with a full high school diploma. Judge Niemeier is gracious to be a part of the Alternative High School program because he sees some of the same children in his courts. Though he has the ability to court order an offender to go to AIS, he rarely does. To Niemeier it is solely about what is in the best interest of the kids. The more he can impact these kids while they’re in school it means there is a less likely chance of the kid coming before him in court.

Judge Niemeier wouldn’t like to stop there, though. He believes that a strong effort in prevention, rather than intervention, would result in his court seeing less and less of the same offenders before it. “Intervention in high school is almost too late because these students become set in their ways at an early age. Poor parenting, and a lack of discipline and rules, can haunt a child for a lifetime. In a perfect world would we should start formal education by the age of three and require parenting classes for those parents who don`t have a clue how to successfully raise a child. In a perfect world I would like to have five to ten more Court officers to work with children as early as possible in an effort to provide assistance in order to prevent issues from developing later. My officers can only do so much trying to change a 16 year old. It is no secret that the first ten years of a child’s life are the optimal years for mental growth and the formation of habits. If we can reach them early we can prevent them from ever dropping out of school and from having to appear in the Juvenile Court.” All of Niemeier’s work with children has been beyond the call of duty. The most disappointing aspect to Niemeier of being a Judge is the parents he sees that simply won’t help themselves. The most disappointing thing to him about teens are the truants that once he gets them to attend school they still fail most of their classes because they have failed so much for so long their expectations are low and they have developed poor habits. It seems as though it is critical to reach out to our children at a young age and instill solid habits promoting good work ethic, confidence, and dedication.

Judge Niemeier has 27 employees that handle probate matters, guardianships, adoptions, and children in need of service cases, which absorb most of their time. He and his staff deal with abuse and neglect and typically see more neglect cases then they do abuse related cases. Most of the cases that he and his staff work on are the results of drug abuse. Nearly every meth lab that is shut down is in a house with children or is directly accessible to these children. The most rewarding aspect of Judge Niemeier’s career is seeing the kids and parents he’s helped and how they were able to turn around their lives. When people ask how he can continue to keep faith in his job while seeing all the failure, he responds by pointing out that he sees success along with that failure. “In my job if you do not believe in miracles, you soon will.”

Judge Niemeier, with the help of Gail Gerling-Pettinga, has also established the Juvenile Guidance Foundation. This program`s purpose is to meet emergency needs of some of the kids and families he sees. The program was started so they could supply services to the EVSC and due to lack of funding the program has now involved into an emergency fund for assisting families for things he cannot get funding from the county for. In one instance the program has purchased bus tickets for family members of children that were admitted to Riley Hospital. Anyone wishing to donate to this fund is encouraged to contact Gail Gerling-Pettinga at (812) 423-5251.

Judge Niemeier considers himself extremely blessed when it comes to family. He has two step-sons and two daughters all of whom are in their early 20’s. His youngest son is in boot camp to become an aviation handler in the Navy while his other son is currently a correctional officer in the jail. His youngest daughter is currently graduating USI and plans on teaching elementary school and his oldest daughter is on course to graduate from Miami University (Florida) School of Law. She plans on clerking for Federal Court Judge Richard Young. Judge Niemeier and his wife, Lora, have been happily married for eight years and live downtown within walking distance of the Civic Center.


  1. I really respect Judge Niemeier because he helped me and my mother with a problem concerning my brother.

    Thanks to him my brother is now a quality person. God bless you Judge.

  2. Very intresting article about a really nice person.

    Thanks Judge for all you do to help the disadvantage people of this community.

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