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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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