ILNews

Allen County judge faces misconduct charges

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2008
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An Allen County judge is facing disciplinary charges for what is being described as misconduct in a fellow jurist's courtroom that involved verbally berating members of a defendant's family after a sentencing hearing.

Allen Superior Judge Kenneth R. Scheibenberger has been charged by the Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications with four counts of misconduct, filed Tuesday as a formal notice of disciplinary proceedings. The document can be viewed here.

The filed complaint states that on Nov. 30, 2007, Judge Scheibenberger suspended his court session and went to the courtroom of colleague Allen Superior Judge Frances Gull for the purpose of observing a sentencing hearing. Judge Scheibenberger sat in the gallery wearing his black judicial robe while a defendant was sentenced for a weapons violation, the notice says.

As the hearing concluded, he approached the deputy prosecutor at the front of the courtroom and "created a disturbance."

Judge Scheibenberger is accused of violating canons requiring judges to uphold the integrity of the judiciary and high standards of conduct, of not avoiding impropriety and promoting the public's confidence in the judiciary, committing conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice, and committing willful misconduct of office.

Now in his late 50s, the judge has been on the bench since January 1992. He was admitted into practice in October 1976.

This isn't the first time the judge has been in the news. In 2003, Judge Scheibenberger removed himself from a death penalty case after a defense attorney claimed the judge was impaired because of alcoholism, according to Indiana Lawyer archives.

That capital case involved Zolo Azania, who's been sentenced to die for the 1981 killing of a Gary police officer. The judge was appointed a special judge in this case because of pretrial news coverage, but he then checked himself into an alcohol rehabilitation program. At the time, Judge Scheibenberger told Indiana Lawyer that he was never intoxicated on the bench, his condition didn't affect his job, and that it didn't affect his ability or perception as a judge.

Judge Scheibenberger also received a public admonishment from the Indiana Supreme Court in December 2002 for conduct related to a misdemeanor case involving his son. The judge obtained his son's file from an employee in the clerk's office and made an entry about an upcoming hearing in the case, which was being handled by a magistrate and was continued to allow more time to prepare. The court punished him for conduct that didn't uphold the integrity of the judiciary and was also prejudicial to the administration of justice.

The judge did not return a telephone message left by Indiana Lawyer at his court office today, and the court docket doesn't show that an attorney has yet been assigned to represent him in this disciplinary action. Judge Scheibenberger may file an answer to the charges within 20 days, though that's not required.

After that, the Indiana Supreme Court will appoint three masters to conduct a hearing on the charges of judicial misconduct, according to the commission's counsel Meg Babcock. Those judges would file a report with the state's highest court, determining whether any misconduct occurred and whether any sanction should be issued. Penalties could range from private or public reprimands, suspension, or removal from office.
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  1. I grew up on a farm and live in the county and it's interesting that the big industrial farmers like Jeff Shoaf don't live next to their industrial operations...

  2. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  3. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  4. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  5. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

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