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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. The child support award is many times what the custodial parent earns, and exceeds the actual costs of providing for the children's needs. My fiance and I have agreed that if we divorce, that the children will be provided for using a shared checking account like this one(http://www.mediate.com/articles/if_they_can_do_parenting_plans.cfm) to avoid the hidden alimony in Indiana's child support guidelines.

  2. Fiat justitia ruat caelum is a Latin legal phrase, meaning "Let justice be done though the heavens fall." The maxim signifies the belief that justice must be realized regardless of consequences.

  3. Indiana up holds this behavior. the state police know they got it made.

  4. Additional Points: -Civility in the profession: Treating others with respect will not only move others to respect you, it will show a shared respect for the legal system we are all sworn to protect. When attorneys engage in unnecessary personal attacks, they lose the respect and favor of judges, jurors, the person being attacked, and others witnessing or reading the communication. It's not always easy to put anger aside, but if you don't, you will lose respect, credibility, cases, clients & jobs or job opportunities. -Read Rule 22 of the Admission & Discipline Rules. Capture that spirit and apply those principles in your daily work. -Strive to represent clients in a manner that communicates the importance you place on the legal matter you're privileged to handle for them. -There are good lawyers of all ages, but no one is perfect. Older lawyers can learn valuable skills from younger lawyers who tend to be more adept with new technologies that can improve work quality and speed. Older lawyers have already tackled more legal issues and worked through more of the problems encountered when representing clients on various types of legal matters. If there's mutual respect and a willingness to learn from each other, it will help make both attorneys better lawyers. -Erosion of the public trust in lawyers wears down public confidence in the rule of law. Always keep your duty to the profession in mind. -You can learn so much by asking questions & actively listening to instructions and advice from more experienced attorneys, regardless of how many years or decades you've each practiced law. Don't miss out on that chance.

  5. Agreed on 4th Amendment call - that was just bad policing that resulted in dismissal for repeat offender. What kind of parent names their boy "Kriston"?

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