Already, his former part-time commissioner has resigned and been permanently banned from any judicial role because of this issue, and Judge Hawkins is battling 11 misconduct charges against him that could mean his judicial career is on the line.
But before he finds out his fate, the judge is waiting for three out-of-county colleagues to decide whether he violated judicial canons by not adequately supervising his court and misleading an investigation into his court's conduct.
On the bench since January 2001, this is the first time Judge Hawkins has faced a judicial disciplinary hearing. While his demeanor during testimony and in conversations outside the Indiana Supreme Court courtroom clearly illustrated he's nervous about what could happen, he is unwavering in his assertion that he never tried to cover up anything.
"I don't deny I didn't have a good operation," Judge Hawkins said. "But I didn't lie, I didn't mislead anyone. I stand up to my mistakes."
The Indiana Judicial Qualifications Commission in April filed about a dozen charges each against Judge Hawkins and his former part-time commissioner Nancy L. Broyles alleging delay and dereliction of duties relating to the handling of various cases. Mostly, the counts dealt with the handling of a post-conviction case that resulted in Indianapolis man Harold Buntin being held in prison for 22 months after DNA evidence cleared him of a 1984 rape, for which he'd spent a total of 13 years in prison.
Buntin petitioned for relief in 1998 based on DNA evidence that wasn't available during his trial that he hoped would clear him; it eventually did in 2005. Serving in a part-time capacity since 2001, Broyles was assigned his post-conviction hearing in March 2005 and took it under advisement in April.
The case came to light after Buntin received no word from his Indianapolis attorney, Carolyn Rader, or the court, despite his repeated attempts to get an answer. He contacted the commission to investigate the reason for the delay in early 2007.
After the commission got involved, Judge Hawkins investigated and discovered an array of problems: a missing file that was later located, an order that appeared to have been signed 13 months after Broyles took the case under advisement but was not properly processed, and confusion about what caused the delays in the first place. Eventually, Judge Hawkins issued a notice of delay March 8, 2007, but it took an additional six weeks and another inquiry from the Judicial Qualifications Commission before a hearing was scheduled and Buntin was released April 20, 2007.
Now, it's up to three judicial masters - Delaware Circuit Judge Marianne Vorhees, Lake Superior Judge Clarence Murray, and Elkhart Circuit Judge Terry Shewmaker - to sift through the evidence and case history. They presided over the hearing and are expected to issue a report to the high court by Nov. 14.
At the hearing, Disciplinary Commission attorney Adrienne Meiring described a disorganized and delay-ridden court where Judge Hawkins failed to provide adequate supervision. Defense attorney Kevin McGoff contended that the sitting judge wasn't personally responsible for actions he wasn't aware of and at no time misled the investigating commission or parties involved in the case.
McGoff countered most of the witnesses by pointing out that much remains uncertain about the circumstances causing the delay and how differing recollections weren't proof that anyone intentionally misled the investigation.
Rader, Buntin's attorney, testified on the first day that she communicated with Broyles by e-mail, phone, and inquiry, but Rader chose not to bring it to the judge's attention.
"I didn't consider going to (Judge) Hawkins as advisable. I didn't want to cause friction between them, didn't want to get her in trouble, didn't want to raise Cain, didn't want to jeopardize Buntin's position," Rader said.
She testified that she has agreed to a public reprimand in her own disciplinary action, which was for failing to communicate with Buntin during the court delays. She's also reached an undisclosed settlement in a civil suit that Buntin filed against her, she testified.
Buntin's suit against the Marion County clerk and Judge Hawkins' court remains pending.
While it remains unclear exactly how the delays happened, both the judicial officers have taken responsibility for the Buntin case delays and how the court handled the issue.
Just days before the judicial misconduct hearing was to begin, the commission reached an agreement with Broyles in the action against her and the Indiana Supreme Court accepted that discipline Oct. 10. She voluntarily resigned in April, has been permanently banned from the bench, including pro tempore service, and is being publicly reprimanded.
In issuing its order, the court noted that she's shown consistent remorse for the events and takes responsibility for her actions and inactions. The court wrote, "a public reprimand adequately sanctions her for the admissions made as part of this agreement .... (it) remains on her record and is of great personal consequence for her as it would any attorney or judicial officer that considers their reputations to be their largest asset. "All justices agreed except Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard, who found the sanction to be inadequate.
During testimony at Judge Hawkins' hearing, Broyles said she regrets the delays and what happened, saying she agonized and stressed about this case and how to best respond to it - even during the delay that came after she took the case under advisement in April 2005.
"I was the cause .... I did not handle this well," the former commissioner testified, noting that she should have pressed for updates from all parties and moved the case more quickly. "Of my many regrets on this whole matter ... that was my biggest one. I take full responsibility for that."
Broyles said she had no reason to think the judge had misled anyone on the matter and said she's never heard him accused of dishonesty, and some of the judge's colleagues and attorneys practicing before him defended his integrity.
However, Broyles testified that just prior to leaving the bench this spring, a check with court administration showed that Criminal Court 5 continued to have too many PCR cases open, an issue that testimony indicated may have been caused by staff not correctly closing files.
Judge Hawkins said he greatly regrets what happened and has vowed to make sure the process is more closely monitored and scrutinized in his courtroom. Drastic changes have already been implemented, he said.
"You have a system in place you think is working well, and you don't know it isn't working well until someone brings it to your attention," he told the masters' panel. "Mistakes happen to the best of us. I've always wanted to be the best of us, and until Buntin came along, I didn't fully realize the limitations we have." •