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Court sanctions Allen County judge

November 21, 2008

The Indiana Supreme Court has suspended Allen Superior Judge Kenneth R. Scheibenberger for three days without pay as part of an agreement to resolve a judicial misconduct action.

An 11-page order issued Thursday outlines the sanctions and the circumstances of the judge's actions nearly a year ago, and also offers insight into the court's rationale. All justices concurred with the penalty and that proceeding costs are to be assessed against the judge. The parties had agreed to the penalty beforehand.

A full opinion hasn't been issued, but the court will release one "in due course" that includes details such as when the suspension starts, the order says.

Judge Scheibenberger had been set for a full-day disciplinary hearing before three special masters on Nov. 26, but that now won't happen. He was accused in August of misconduct for his behavior Nov. 30, 2007, in a colleague's courtroom. He's accused of suspending his court and sitting in on a sentencing hearing while wearing his robe, then creating a disturbance with deputy prosecutors before verbally berating a defendant in front of that person's family.

According to the statement attached to the order and accepted by the court, the judge's son had died accidentally prior to the courtroom event and Judge Scheibenberger believed at the time that the defendant in that case had some tangential or indirect role in his son's drug use, which contributed to the death. While he didn't intend on any confrontation, the judge and all parties agreed his conduct was in violation of judicial canons.

The parties agreed that a significant mitigating factor in this action was that Judge Scheibenberger was reacting as a grieving parent, that he's accepted responsibility and is remorseful, and that he's "undertaken appropriate measures to address his grief."

However, the parties also agreed that an aggravating factor in this action is a public admonition Judge Scheibenberger received in 2002 for conduct related to a misdemeanor case involving his son. In that action, 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 judge's Fort Wayne attorney, James Fenton, didn't return a phone call immediately this afternoon, and the judge also didn't immediately return a phone message left at his court.

In his late 50s, the judge has been on the bench since January 1992. He was admitted to the practice in October 1976.

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