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St. Joseph County magistrate receives public admonition

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St. Joseph Probate Magistrate Barbara Johnston received a public admonition Thursday stemming from an ex parte ruling she made in 2011 which denied the father due process in a custody hearing.

The Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications issued the public admonition after Johnston’s admission that her actions violated the Indiana Code of Judicial Conduct and trial court rules designed to ensure basic due process. She violated Rules 1.1, 1.2, 2.2 and 2.5 of the Code of Judicial Conduct, which require judges to ensure fairness, impartiality, diligence and integrity of the judiciary. She also violated Rule 2.9(A), which forbids ex parte contacts absent a true emergency.

In the August 2011 hearing, the maternal grandparents of a child whose mother had recently died filed a motion asking for custody of the child. Paternity had been established for the child, and the father had been making support payments. However, the grandparents and their attorney did not provide the father with a copy of the motion or notify him of the hearing and the fact that they were seeking custody.

Johnston set a hearing date and, when the father did not appear, the hearing was held and testimony on the custody motion was heard without the father’s presence. No effort was made to check the contact information the father had on file with the clerk’s office and use that information to notify him of the proceedings.

An ex parte change of custody order was granted to the grandparents and an order to change support payments was issued without giving the father an opportunity to be heard. Several months later, when the father learned of the court order, he hired an attorney and was granted custody of his child.

The commission determined that formal disciplinary charges are warranted against Johnston, but in lieu of formal disciplinary proceedings a public admonition would be issued. The admonition concludes the commission’s investigation, and Johnston will not formally be charged with ethical misconduct. The commission indicated that Johnston cooperated in the matter and acknowledged she violated the Code of Judicial Conduct by entertaining and granting an ex parte motion without prior notice to the noncustodial father or an opportunity for him to be heard.

“The Commission recognizes that when child custody is at issue, judicial officers may be confronted with parties, and their attorneys, desperately seeking urgent judicial intervention. Such occasions call upon all judges and lawyers to proceed with heightened awareness of and high regard for the importance for a parent’s right to be heard. In the absence of a true emergency that presents a risk of irreparable injury to a child, such right must be scrupulously honored and protected. This fundamental notion has long been emphasized and enforced by both the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission and the Indiana Judicial Qualifications Commission,” the admonition states.


 

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  1. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

  2. During a visit where an informant with police wears audio and video, does the video necessary have to show hand to hand transaction of money and narcotics?

  3. I will agree with that as soon as law schools stop lying to prospective students about salaries and employment opportunities in the legal profession. There is no defense to the fraudulent numbers first year salaries they post to mislead people into going to law school.

  4. The sad thing is that no fish were thrown overboard The "greenhorn" who had never fished before those 5 days was interrogated for over 4 hours by 5 officers until his statement was illicited, "I don't want to go to prison....." The truth is that these fish were measured frozen off shore and thawed on shore. The FWC (state) officer did not know fish shrink, so the only reason that these fish could be bigger was a swap. There is no difference between a 19 1/2 fish or 19 3/4 fish, short fish is short fish, the ticket was written. In addition the FWC officer testified at trial, he does not measure fish in accordance with federal law. There was a document prepared by the FWC expert that said yes, fish shrink and if these had been measured correctly they averaged over 20 inches (offshore frozen). This was a smoke and mirror prosecution.

  5. I love this, Dave! Many congrats to you! We've come a long way from studying for the bar together! :)

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