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Indicted judge to be suspended

May 8, 2009

The Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications has filed a notice with the Indiana Supreme Court for a request of suspension of LaPorte Superior Judge Jennifer Koethe, who was indicted Thursday for attempted obstruction of justice stemming from a shooting incident at her home in December.

Judge Koethe was a judge-elect when she was grazed by a bullet during a shooting in her home Dec. 22, 2008. She was briefly hospitalized and took the bench shortly after the incident.

Commission staff attorney Adrienne Meiring filed the request for suspension today based on Rule 25 of the Indiana Rules of Court for admission and discipline that requires a judicial officer shall be suspended with pay by the Supreme Court upon the filing of an indictment of a felony charge, said Indiana Supreme Court spokesperson Kathryn Dolan.

The grand jury indicted Judge Koethe with attempted obstruction of justice, a Class D felony, finding she requested a handwritten note that was evidence in an official investigation be disposed of, according to court documents. The indictment doesn't specify what the note said.

Her husband, Stephan, was indicted on two counts - Class A misdemeanor false informing, and Class B misdemeanor criminal recklessness for handling and loading a firearm while intoxicated and during an argument with another intoxicated person. Her husband told a local news station shortly after the shooting that the judge accidentally shot herself while handling a gun that she believed was empty.

In January, Special Judge Walter Chapala ordered all firearms removed from the Koethes' home and for the couple to abstain from drinking alcohol whenever Stephan's children from a previous marriage would be in their care. Special Prosecutor Michael A. Dvorak of St. Joseph County asked April 18 for the grand jury investigation of the shooting.

Judge Koethe currently presides in LaPorte Superior 3. As a result of the criminal charge filed against the judge, Lake Superior Judge Thomas P. Stefaniak has been appointed by the Supreme Court to preside over Judge Koethe's case. The entire LaPorte County judiciary recused themselves from hearing the matter to avoid the appearance of impropriety, Dolan said.

Dolan said the Supreme Court is handling the request for suspension as quickly as possible.

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