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Hamilton County judge receives public reprimand

May 27, 2011

The Indiana Supreme Court issued a public reprimand against Hamilton Superior Judge William J. Hughes, the disciplinary sanction stemming from an out-of-state drunk driving arrest.

In a per curiam opinion issued Friday, the court culminated the case of In The Matter of the Hon. William J. Hughes,  No. 29S00-1105-JD-279. The justices agreed with the Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications, which had reached an agreement with Judge Hughes for a public reprimand.

Judge Hughes was arrested Oct. 27, 2010, after being pulled over in the Outer Banks of North Carolina for driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.13 — nearly twice the state’s legal limit of 0.08. He was charged with driving while impaired and a traffic infraction of driving left of center, and a day after his arrest he notified the Indiana judicial qualifications commission about what had happened.

In April, the prosecutor dismissed the DWI charge for a lower misdemeanor reckless driving charge, and Judge Hughes pleaded guilty. His criminal sanction: 12 months of unsupervised probation that includes enrolling and completing an alcohol and drug assessment program within 180 days or attending at least 10 hours of substance abuse counseling, and a stipulation that he won’t operate a vehicle within eight hours of consuming any alcohol. The judge also paid $443 in fines and court costs.

“At no time during the criminal proceedings did Respondent attempt in any way to gain an advantage because he is a judge,” the Supreme Court wrote. “Rather, the criminal proceedings were handled in the customary fashion for the jurisdiction.”

The commission asserted that Judge Hughes violated Rule 1.1 and 1.2 of the state judicial conduct code — provisions that say a jurist will comply with the law and at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the judiciary.

First joining the bench in 1988, Judge Hughes does not have any previous discipline history with the Indiana system before this public reprimand. This sanction is one that other trial judges have received for similar conduct in recent years.

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