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Suspended LaPorte judge acquitted at trial

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A suspended LaPorte Superior judge has been acquitted of any criminal charges involving an accidental shooting where her head was grazed by a bullet and led to accusations that she tried to cover up details about what happened.

But three judicial misconduct charges remain pending against Judge Jennifer Evans-Koethe. In a response to the Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications, she denies intentionally trying to cover up evidence and blames her head wound for affecting her memory and what she said immediately after the Dec. 22, 2008, incident.

Judge Koethe was a judge-elect when she was shot in the head in her home, shortly before taking the bench in January 2009. At the time of the incident, there were discrepancies as to how the judge was shot. Judge Koethe originally told authorities she accidentally shot herself and didn't know where the gun was located. She later told a detective at the hospital she put the gun to her head to scare her husband but didn't know it was loaded when it fired.

She also told a detective she wrote a note to her husband and asked him to get rid of it. That request led to a grand jury indictment. As a result, Koethe faced criminal charges of felony attempted obstruction of justice. The trial was transferred to Lake Superior Court, and a jury found her not guilty Jan. 5.

Even with the not-guilty finding the judge, who's been suspended since May 11, still faces judicial discipline charges that could lead to a reprimand, unpaid suspension, or possibly removal from the bench. The Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications filed charges against her in December, accusing her of deliberately withholding or misrepresenting pertinent information during taped statements and violating professional conduct rules by asking a police officer to destroy potential evidence.

In her response Jan. 8, the judge denies being asked about the whereabouts of her handgun when police came to her home in response to the shooting, and said she had no recollection of being questioned there. At trial, a police officer testified that both she and her husband said they "didn't know" where the gun was, although it was later found hidden in a laundry basket in a bedroom closet.

"However, she has been informed and believes, and therefore admits, that she spoke such words as those attributed to her," her response says.

The response also denies deliberately omitting disclosure of the note in a recorded statement.

James Fenton, the Fort Wayne attorney representing her on the discipline charges, could not be reached for comment prior to deadline for this story.

The Indiana Supreme Court will appoint three special masters by mid-February to hear the evidence and submit a report to the justices for consideration on what, if any, discipline should be imposed. Justices have final say on that.

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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