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. Your article is a good intro the recent amendments to Fed.R.Civ.P. For a much longer - though not necessarily better -- summary, counsel might want to read THE CHIEF UMPIRE IS CHANGING THE STRIKE ZONE, which I co-authored and which was just published in the January issue of THE VERDICT (the monthly publication of the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association).

  2. Thank you, John Smith, for pointing out a needed correction. The article has been revised.

  3. The "National institute for Justice" is an agency for the Dept of Justice. That is not the law firm you are talking about in this article. The "institute for justice" is a public interest law firm. http://ij.org/ thanks for interesting article however

  4. I would like to try to find a lawyer as soon possible I've had my money stolen off of my bank card driver pressed charges and I try to get the information they need it and a Social Security board is just give me a hold up a run around for no reason and now it think it might be too late cuz its been over a year I believe and I can't get the right information they need because they keep giving me the runaroundwhat should I do about that

  5. It is wonderful that Indiana DOC is making some truly admirable and positive changes. People with serious mental illness, intellectual disability or developmental disability will benefit from these changes. It will be much better if people can get some help and resources that promote their health and growth than if they suffer alone. If people experience positive growth or healing of their health issues, they may be less likely to do the things that caused them to come to prison in the first place. This will be of benefit for everyone. I am also so happy that Indiana DOC added correctional personnel and mental health staffing. These are tough issues to work with. There should be adequate staffing in prisons so correctional officers and other staff are able to do the kind of work they really want to do-helping people grow and change-rather than just trying to manage chaos. Correctional officers and other staff deserve this. It would be great to see increased mental health services and services for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities in the community so that fewer people will have to receive help and support in prisons. Community services would like be less expensive, inherently less demeaning and just a whole lot better for everyone.

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