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Commission wants judge suspended now

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The Indiana Judicial Qualifications Commission agrees with a three-masters panel that a Marion Superior judge should be removed from the bench but wants him immediately suspended while the Indiana Supreme Court considers his final punishment.

A two-page recommendation and 18-page memorandum of support came from the Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications Friday, a response to a recommendation from a masters panel Nov. 7. That 70-page decision found Marion Superior Judge Grant Hawkins violated canons and committed 10 counts of judicial misconduct relating to how he supervised his court, and that the appropriate sanction should be removal.

The Indiana Judicial Qualifications Commission filed charges in April accusing him and former Commissioner Nancy Broyles of misconduct, which in large part led to a pattern of case delays and one that resulted in wrongfully convicted Harold Buntin being kept in prison almost two years after DNA cleared him of a crime. She has since resigned and been permanently banned from the bench. The panel conducted a two-day hearing for the judge in early October.

Charges are that he didn't adequately supervise his staff and the commissioner, and that the lack of supervision led to a pattern of delays, including Buntin's. The masters acknowledged Judge Hawkins' apology and remorse. If it weren't for what resulted in the Buntin case, they said they normally would have recommended a suspension without pay because of how he generally handled the post-conviction relief issues.

In its response, the Judicial Qualifications Commission agreed with the panel in full and said an immediate suspension and subsequent removal is the only adequate solution.

"Ultimately, the Commission believes that Judge Hawkins' negligent and inexplicably casual approach to the Buntin case and the general operation of his court caused a significant loss of liberty to Mr. Buntin, numerous violations of procedural due process to other petitioners, and a general breakdown of the public's trust for countless others interested in the efficient operations of the criminal justice system," the memorandum says. "In balancing all the circumstances, the Commission concludes that the damage to the reputation and to the public's perception of Indiana's judiciary will be repaired only if Judge Hawkins is removed from office."

The Indiana Supreme Court will get the case to consider what penalty to issue after a procedural response period; Judge Hawkins is allowed 20 days to challenge the recommendations and then the commission has 10 days to respond from that. Justices aren't bound by any timeline once they receive the case for consideration.

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