Tuesday, February 21, 2023
Charges Involving Indiana Judge
Notice from the web page of the Indiana Courts
The Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications has filed disciplinary charges against St. Joseph Probate Court Judge Jason A. Cichowicz. The Commission alleges seven counts of misconduct in his role as an attorney and later as a judge related to a conflict of interest and improper dealing with a charitable trust. Judge Cichowicz is permitted (but not required) to file an answer to the charges within 20 days.
The "Notice of the Institution of Formal Proceedings and Statement of Charges" (Case No. 23S-JD-33) is public record and has been filed with the Appellate Clerk’s Office. The charges are brought by the seven-member Commission, which investigates alleged ethical misconduct by judges.
The Commission charges in two counts that when Judge Cichowicz was an attorney, he violated the Rules of Professional Conduct by having a conflict of interest while representing a client. Of the remaining five counts, the Commission charges that, after Cichowicz was elected judge, he violated judicial canons that require judges to respect the law, avoid impropriety, promote public confidence in the judiciary, and avoid abusing the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of another.
Generally, the Commission alleges that Cichowicz improperly continued his fiduciary relationship after becoming a judge. The Commission charges that he engaged in misconduct by using his role as the trustee of a charitable organization to donate funds to the courts for improvements. The funds were donated in a way that the public would not be able to determine the source, and the judge’s father’s business made some of the improvements.
The Supreme Court has final authority to determine what, if any, judicial misconduct occurred. The Court can dismiss the charges, accept or reject a disciplinary agreement between the Commission and Judge Cichowicz, appoint a panel of judges to conduct a public hearing, impose a fine, or impose sanctions ranging from a reprimand to a suspension to a permanent ban on holding judicial office in Indiana. More information about the Commission can be found at courts.in.gov/jqc. Judge Cichowicz is represented by attorney Donald R. Lundberg who can be reached at [email protected] or 317-416-0733.
Among the charges involve allegations regarding remodeling in the courthouse
In the spring of 2019, Respondent asked the owner of R & K Ceramic Tile, LLC (“R & K”) to remodel or refurbish three separate break rooms in the JJC.
The owner of R & K is Kenneth Cichowicz, Respondent’s father.
The funding for the breakroom project was supplied by the Friends of the JJC at the direction or request of Respondent.
No bids or estimates from other contractors were sought for the breakroom remodeling projects.
And automobile purchases
In 2020, Respondent sought to purchase three automobiles for use by the Court Appointed Special Advocates program (“CASA”) affiliated with the juvenile court in St. Joseph County.
The Friends of the JJC then issued funds in the sum of $51,000 to Victory Auto, LLC (“Victory Auto”) for the purchase of the three automobiles.
The owner of Victory Auto is Kenneth Cichowicz (“Kenneth”), Respondent’s father.
Respondent planned with Kenneth to locate and purchase the three automobiles.
WSBT 22 reported on the charges
The charges claim conflict of interest while Cichowicz was a lawyer representing a man named Russell Cartwright, while also being a beneficiary on Cartwright's trusts and bank accounts.
As a judge, Cichowicz allegedly still held Cartwright's power of attorney. And is suspected of 'obscuring' sources of funding from Cartwright's foundation to renovate the JJC, allegedly using some of that money to benefit Cichowicz's father's businesses.
“The funds were donated in a way that the public would not be able to determine the source, and the judge’s father’s business made some of the improvements,” according to Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications.
According to the documents, that included an additional courtroom, remodeled breakrooms, and three automobiles to be used by the Court Appointed Special Advocates Program.
Cichowicz's lawyer said he legally used private funds at no cost to taxpayers and no benefit to himself.
“The Commission’s own statement of charges correctly asserts that Judge Cichowicz’s interest was in making improvements that would be beneficial to the important work of the St. Joseph Probate Court and the families and children it serves,” said Donald Lundberg, Judge Cichowicz’s Lawyer.
Cartwright's lawyer said he is standing by Cichowicz 100% and considers him a family member.
“Mr. Cartwright has always maintained that all actions taken by Cichowicz on behalf of Mr. Cartwright were of his own choosing and also in the best interest of our community and the children and families served by the JJC,” said Michael Misch, Cartwright’s Lawyer.
Judge Cichowicz has 20 days to respond to the complaint.