February 15, 2011
Damage Done By Assembly-Line Injustice
The Indiana Supreme Court suspended a superior court judge for 30 days without pay for his handling of traffic infractions generally and one case in particular.
The particular case involved a bench trial on charges of driving while suspended and speeding. The defendant indicated a wish to accept a plea offer at the start of the examination of the state's first witness. The judge refused to take the plea and said, inter alia, "I don't like being jerked around, all right?" He found the defendant guilty and imposed a 365 day jail sentence along with license revocation. The Supreme Court reversed the conviction and granted a new trial for his conduct.
In other traffic cases, the judge had a practice of imposing fines greater than permitted by law. In one case, when the defendant was uncertain whether to admit or deny the charges, the judge stated: "I'm a great listener but sometimes I'm very expensive." He admitted that he "wanted to discourage other litigants from exercising their constitutional rights to trials" and failed to consider the individual facts of the cases before him.
The sanction was based on a conditional agreement.
Chief Justice Shepard concurred, only in deference to the agreed sanction: "I would expect that in the absence of a settlement, this case should have resulted in a lenghtier suspension. The per curiam understates the willfulness of the Respondent's misconduct and the damage it has done to the public standing of the judiciary. Fortunately, the overwhelming number of Indiana's judicial officers strive demonstratably toward a much higher standard."
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