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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. People have heard of Magna Carta, and not the Provisions of Oxford & Westminster. Not that anybody really cares. Today, it might be considered ethnic or racial bias to talk about the "Anglo Saxon common law." I don't even see the word English in the blurb above. Anyhow speaking of Edward I-- he was famously intolerant of diversity himself viz the Edict of Expulsion 1290. So all he did too like making parliament a permanent institution-- that all must be discredited. 100 years from now such commemorations will be in the dustbin of history.

  2. Oops, I meant discipline, not disciple. Interesting that those words share such a close relationship. We attorneys are to be disciples of the law, being disciplined to serve the law and its source, the constitutions. Do that, and the goals of Magna Carta are advanced. Do that not and Magna Carta is usurped. Do that not and you should be disciplined. Do that and you should be counted a good disciple. My experiences, once again, do not reveal a process that is adhering to the due process ideals of Magna Carta. Just the opposite, in fact. Braveheart's dying rebel (for a great cause) yell comes to mind.

  3. It is not a sign of the times that many Ind licensed attorneys (I am not) would fear writing what I wrote below, even if they had experiences to back it up. Let's take a minute to thank God for the brave Baron's who risked death by torture to tell the government that it was in the wrong. Today is a career ruination that whistleblowers risk. That is often brought on by denial of licenses or disciple for those who dare speak truth to power. Magna Carta says truth rules power, power too often claims that truth matters not, only Power. Fight such power for the good of our constitutional republics. If we lose them we have only bureaucratic tyranny to pass onto our children. Government attorneys, of all lawyers, should best realize this and work to see our patrimony preserved. I am now a government attorney (once again) in Kansas, and respecting the rule of law is my passion, first and foremost.

  4. I have dealt with more than a few I-465 moat-protected government attorneys and even judges who just cannot seem to wrap their heads around the core of this 800 year old document. I guess monarchial privileges and powers corrupt still ..... from an academic website on this fantastic "treaty" between the King and the people ... "Enduring Principles of Liberty Magna Carta was written by a group of 13th-century barons to protect their rights and property against a tyrannical king. There are two principles expressed in Magna Carta that resonate to this day: "No freeman shall be taken, imprisoned, disseised, outlawed, banished, or in any way destroyed, nor will We proceed against or prosecute him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land." "To no one will We sell, to no one will We deny or delay, right or justice." Inspiration for Americans During the American Revolution, Magna Carta served to inspire and justify action in liberty’s defense. The colonists believed they were entitled to the same rights as Englishmen, rights guaranteed in Magna Carta. They embedded those rights into the laws of their states and later into the Constitution and Bill of Rights. The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution ("no person shall . . . be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.") is a direct descendent of Magna Carta's guarantee of proceedings according to the "law of the land." http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/featured_documents/magna_carta/

  5. I'm not sure what's more depressing: the fact that people would pay $35,000 per year to attend an unaccredited law school, or the fact that the same people "are hanging in there and willing to follow the dean’s lead in going forward" after the same school fails to gain accreditation, rendering their $70,000 and counting education worthless. Maybe it's a good thing these people can't sit for the bar.

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