A Marion Superior judge presiding over the county’s traffic court faces four judicial misconduct charges as a result of his general handling of traffic infraction cases and one suit in particular, where the state justices have described him as being “biased.”
In a seven-page charging document issued July 16, the Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications formally outlined the misconduct allegations against Marion Superior Judge William E. Young, who’s been on the bench since 2001 and has been publicly criticized, sued, and even reversed by the state justices for his handling of traffic court cases that have come before him since taking over Superior 13 in January 2009.
The commission alleges he “engaged in a practice of imposing substantially higher penalties against traffic court litigants who chose to have trials and lost,” and the commission also alleges that Judge Young “routinely made statements implying that litigants should not demand trials and would be penalized for doing so if they lost.”
Specifically, the commission detailed the judge’s alleged misconduct in the 2009 case of Christian Hollinsworth, who police pulled over in August 2007 for speeding.
Just before the bench trial started, Hollinsworth’s attorney asked for a brief recess to “sign off” on a plea agreement but no agreement was reached. The lawyer asked for a continuance, and Judge Young denied that and then wouldn’t allow a plea after Hollinsworth informed the court she would accept one and didn’t want to proceed to trial.
Court records show that Judge Young “exhibited impatience” during trial by citing the time and his “full afternoon” docket when talking to Hollinsworth about a plea agreement, then told her, “I don’t know if I want to take your plea. I’d rather just go to trial, I think. I don’t like being jerked around at all, all right?” At sentencing, Judge Young noted that Hollinsworth had other pending charges on theft and battery and her attorney said those were alleged charges, to which the judge responded, “Sure they are.”
Hollinsworth received a year in county jail and her driving privileges were suspended for an additional 365 days. The judge also found her to be indigent, and didn’t impose any additional fines or penalties on the speeding conviction.
According to the Judicial Qualifications Commission’s allegations, the judge “exhibited impatience and frustration” with Hollinsworth and her attorney, and made “sarcastic remarks” while insisting that the trial move forward despite the litigant’s objection.
The Indiana Supreme Court reversed that conviction June 3 and ordered a new trial in the case of Hollinsworth v. State, No. 49S02-1006-CR-286, pointing specifically to Judge Young’s behavior that violated three judicial conduct canons requiring impartiality, patience, unbiased behavior, and recusal if a judge’s impartiality might be questioned.
“The trial court’s behavior in this case did not meet these standards,” the justices wrote.
Now, the commission is charging Judge Young with four counts:
Count I is that he violated Rule 1.2 of the Code of Judicial Conduct, requiring judges to uphold the integrity of the judiciary and to maintain high standards of conduct; violated Rule 2.2 that requires judges to perform their duties fairly and impartially; violated Rule 2.3(A) requiring judges to perform their duties without bias or prejudice; violated Rule 2.8(B) that requires judges to be patient, dignified, and courteous to litigants and lawyers; violated Rule 2.11(A) that mandates that a judge disqualify himself when the judge has a personal bias or prejudice concerning a party; and overall that Judge Young committed conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice.
Count II centers on the judge’s general sentencing practice of imposing increased penalties against traffic infraction litigants for exercising their rights to trial. By engaging in that pattern of conduct, the judge allegedly violated Rule 1.1, Rule 1.2, and Rule 2.2 – requiring judges to comply with the law and prohibiting them from conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice.
Count III mirrors the above charge on the increased fines, but specifically focuses on that general practice after trials on traffic infraction cases.
Count IV charges that in 2009 Judge Young routinely attempted to coerce traffic court litigants into admitting infractions through his advisements, comments, projections about potential evidence, and misstatements about the burden of proof. The commission alleges that by doing so Judge Young violated Rule 1.2, Rule 2.2, and Rule 2.6(B), requiring judges to not act in a manner that coerces any party into settlement, and committed conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice.
Judge Young had 20 days to respond following notification of the charges, but an answer is not mandatory. Following that, the Supreme Court will appoint three special masters to conduct a public hearing on the disciplinary charges, and the masters will then issue a report for the justices’ consideration. If the case isn’t settled at any point, the Supreme Court can dismiss the charges or impose sanctions ranging from a private or public reprimand to a permanent ban on holding judicial office in Indiana.
Judge Young also faces pending questions in other cases resulting from his behavior on the traffic court bench during the past 17 months. A class action case, Toshinao Ishii, et. al. v. Marion Superior 13, the Hon. William E. Young, Judge, and the City of Indianapolis, No. 49D11-0912-PL-55538, accuses the judge of instituting fine and access policies that undermine confidence in the judiciary’s integrity and impartiality, and are highly prejudicial to litigants. It’s pending in county court, and the justices in May appointed a special judge to hear the case. That suit also prompted the General Assembly this past session to approve legislation limiting hefty fines imposed for traffic infractions.
Indianapolis attorney Paul Ogden, who filed the suit in December, said he’s sorry that these disciplinary charges were necessary but they won’t impact the pending case.
The judicial disciplinary commission has only filed charges and the justices haven’t had a chance yet to consider the case, he said, but if they ultimately end up penalizing Judge Young, it could impact the civil case, Ogden said.
“This isn’t terribly surprising, and you really don’t hope for this,” Ogden said about the allegations against Judge Young. “All of us have our own careers and we don’t wish ill on anyone, but you have to abide by the rules.”
He added that this case could serve as a warning to judges throughout the state who may follow similar practices.
“I don’t think that this is the only place in the state of Indiana where people are punished for wanting their day in court. If it concludes like we hope, then hopefully judges will see that the Supreme Court is paying attention to this.”•