R. Jerome “Jerry” Kearns, a former Vigo County judge and three-term state lawmaker, died Saturday following a six-year battle with cancer.

Family members and former colleagues remembered the 83-year-old Democrat Sunday for helping those most in need.

“Jerry was always a champion of the working men and women in the community; he was a champion of the underprivileged and the downtrodden,” said Phil Adler, a retired judge whose tenure overlapped that of Kearns.

“He had a very soft and sympathetic heart for those folks, which made him an extraordinary judge, I think, in that regard,” Adler said.

He recalled campaigning with Kearns in 1986 when he ran for county prosecutor and Kearns for state representative.

“That was very good for me because Jerry was so darn popular,” Adler said.

Adler also served alongside Kearns as a deputy prosecutor in the 1970s when Kearn’s brother, Michael, was prosecutor, a position the brothers’ father, Raymond Kearns, had also held.

In 2016, the Terre Haute Bar Association honored Kearns for his 50 years as an attorney, judge, prosecutor and legislator.

He served as a circuit judge and, after legislation revised the court system’s make-up, a superior court judge, from 1997 to 2005. He was previously state representative for Indiana’s 43rd district from 1970-74 and 1986-94.


Submitted photo

Family photo: In this 1973 photo, Jerry Kearns carries his then 1-year-old son, Brendan, now a Vigo County commissioner, on his back.

While in the General Assembly, Kearns “did a lot of good things and was well respected,” said Clyde Kersey, who later held the 43rd District seat. “He was just a great legislator. He was a kind and compassionate person who truly believed in helping people and was well respected.”

Sponsored Zachary’s Law

In 1994, Kearns co-sponsored, with Rep. Susan Crosby of Roachdale, a bill requiring public disclosure of the whereabouts of persons convicted of child abuse. The measure passed and became known as “Zachary’s Law” in memory of Zachary Snider, a 10-year-old Cloverdale boy who was killed the year before at the hands of a convicted sex offender who lived nearby.

He also sponsored a bill that, while it received some notoriety, was shot down in a voice vote.

That measure would have moved the seat of Indiana state government from Indianapolis to Terre Haute.

“Moving the state capital to Terre Haute might bring back some of the small-town values to government that are lost in the big city,” Jerry Kearns said at the time.

Brendan Kearns said Sunday his father introduced the measure as part of an exercise in civic education to show middle school students what legislators can do.

Services for R. Jerome Kearns are pending with DeBaun Funeral Homes.

In preparation for services, Brendan Kearns ran across a photo from his childhood that shows him, along with a family cat, riding on his dad’s back.

“That kind of communicates that he’s always carried us,” Brendan Kearns said. “From day one he’s always been there to support and encourage us.”

Dave Taylor can be reached at 812-231-4299 or dave.taylor@tribstar.com. Follow him on TribStarDave.