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Disciplinary attorneys: Judge experience a bonus

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Having a trial court judge as the executive leader of the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission is a new approach for the state, but those intimately involved with attorney disciplinary matters say it could prove to be a positive change.

The Indiana Supreme Court announced Monday it had chosen former Dearborn Superior Judge G. Michael Witte as the Disciplinary Commission’s newest executive secretary to succeed longtime leader Don Lundberg. Lundberg left to join Barnes & Thornburg at the start of the year. The nine-member commission had been searching since late last year, narrowing the list from 24 to 10 before ultimately recommending Judge Witte for the post. He begins June 21.

This is only the third time in almost 40 years the Disciplinary Commission has searched for and chosen a new executive leader.

Judge Witte served on the Dearborn County bench from 1985 to the end of 2008. Since then he’s served as a temporary and senior judge statewide while also maintaining leadership roles at the state and national level. Though he doesn’t specifically have any attorney ethics experience, Judge Witte draws from his practical experience on the bench as well as his judicial ethics experience through the American Bar Association.

Indiana joins other states that have called upon former judges to take on the executive leadership roles for attorney discipline agencies, according to the National Organization of Bar Counsel.

Having a person with judicial experience serve as head of a state disciplinary agency can be a significant positive in terms of providing leadership with a balanced, experienced perspective, said the national group’s president-elect Bill Weigel, litigation counsel for the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s Office of Lawyer Regulation.

“Public confidence in the fairness of the system is key, and judges are perceived as being able to act fairly and in the public interest in contentious matters,” he said. “Judges are usually perceived as not pursuing personal agendas, except to do the right thing. They have training and experience in separating the wheat from the chaff when identifying issues, making decisions based on the evidence and not emotions, and in making tough decisions in adversarial settings.”

Within Indiana, those who’ve led the state Disciplinary Commission and others actively involved in attorney ethics issues through the years admit they don’t personally know Judge Witte. But they agree that his judicial experience and reputation indicate he’ll bring what’s needed to the state agency’s leadership.

“In some ways, this can be a daunting challenge because you’re clearly acting in a position of authority in respect to the bar,” Lundberg said. “I think judicial experience is a good aspect of someone’s background for this job because judges, too, stand in a relationship with the practicing bar that means distancing yourself. Inevitably, there’s some distance in professional roles between the bench and bar, and to some extent that’s true with the lawyer discipline bar. You move in the same circles as a practicing attorney, but at the end of the day you also stand in a position of considerable authority and power.”

Once he leaves the bench and takes the executive secretary post, Lundberg encourages Judge Witte to draw upon the experienced and knowledgeable staff at the state agency. That’s great backup to have, as someone who’s coming in from the outside, Lundberg said.

Westfield attorney John Conlon, who is past chair of the Indiana State Bar Association’s Ethics Committee and has been a leader in that area for years, agrees it’s an excellent idea having a former trial judge in that executive secretary role.

Through the years, he’s witnessed the commission grow in staff and caseload, and the staff attorneys are essentially chief prosecutors on the attorney discipline matters. At this point, he would like to see the executive secretary evolve into more of a full-time administrator and leave the prosecutions to his experienced staff attorneys, Conlon said.

“Although I do not know Judge Witte personally, I understand he was an effective judicial administrator,” Conlon said. “Thus, he should be able to take on a more expanded administrative role very effectively.”

Longtime Disciplinary Commission attorney Seth Pruden, who’s been serving as interim leader since Lundberg left, praised the pick and said Judge Witte’s experience will be a benefit for the agency.

“He brings a perspective of the legal profession that makes him an objective observer,” Pruden said. “He’s not coming at it as a defense lawyer or prosecutor, or civil trial lawyer, but as a neutral observer. That is an excellent qualifier, and I think it makes him very responsive to the needs of our legal system and the court that makes the final disciplinary decisions.”

A full story on Judge Witte being named the new executive secretary can be viewed online at the Indiana Lawyer website Wednesday.
 

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  1. I work with some older lawyers in the 70s, 80s, and they are sharp as tacks compared to the foggy minded, undisciplined, inexperienced, listless & aimless "youths" being churned out by the diploma mill law schools by the tens of thousands. A client is generally lucky to land a lawyer who has decided to stay in practice a long time. Young people shouldn't kid themselves. Experience is golden especially in something like law. When you start out as a new lawyer you are about as powerful as a babe in the cradle. Whereas the silver halo of age usually crowns someone who can strike like thunder.

  2. YES I WENT THROUGH THIS BEFORE IN A DIFFERENT SITUATION WITH MY YOUNGEST SON PEOPLE NEED TO LEAVE US ALONE WITH DCS IF WE ARE NOT HURTING OR NEGLECT OUR CHILDREN WHY ARE THEY EVEN CALLED OUT AND THE PEOPLE MAKING FALSE REPORTS NEED TO GO TO JAIL AND HAVE A CLASS D FELONY ON THERE RECORD TO SEE HOW IT FEELS. I WENT THREW ALOT WHEN HE WAS TAKEN WHAT ELSE DOES THESE SCHOOL WANT ME TO SERVE 25 YEARS TO LIFE ON LIES THERE TELLING OR EVEN LE SAME THING LIED TO THE COUNTY PROSECUTOR JUST SO I WOULD GET ARRESTED AND GET TIME HE THOUGHT AND IT TURNED OUT I DID WHAT I HAD TO DO NOT PROUD OF WHAT HAPPEN AND SHOULD KNOW ABOUT SEEKING MEDICAL ATTENTION FOR MY CHILD I AM DISABLED AND SICK OF GETTING TREATED BADLY HOW WOULD THEY LIKE IT IF I CALLED APS ON THEM FOR A CHANGE THEN THEY CAN COME AND ARREST THEM RIGHT OUT OF THE SCHOOL. NOW WE ARE HOMELESS AND THE CHILDREN ARE STAYING WITH A RELATIVE AND GUARDIAN AND THE SCHOOL WON'T LET THEM GO TO SCHOOL THERE BUT WANT THEM TO GO TO SCHOOL WHERE BULLYING IS ALLOWED REAL SMART THINKING ON A SCHOOL STAFF.

  3. Family court judges never fail to surprise me with their irrational thinking. First of all any man who abuses his wife is not fit to be a parent. A man who can't control his anger should not be allowed around his child unsupervised period. Just because he's never been convicted of abusing his child doesn't mean he won't and maybe he hasn't but a man that has such poor judgement and control is not fit to parent without oversight - only a moron would think otherwise. Secondly, why should the mother have to pay? He's the one who made the poor decisions to abuse and he should be the one to pay the price - monetarily and otherwise. Yes it's sad that the little girl may be deprived of her father, but really what kind of father is he - the one that abuses her mother the one that can't even step up and do what's necessary on his own instead the abused mother is to pay for him???? What is this Judge thinking? Another example of how this world rewards bad behavior and punishes those who do right. Way to go Judge - NOT.

  4. Right on. Legalize it. We can take billions away from the drug cartels and help reduce violence in central America and more unwanted illegal immigration all in one fell swoop. cut taxes on the savings from needless incarcerations. On and stop eroding our fourth amendment freedom or whatever's left of it.

  5. "...a switch from crop production to hog production "does not constitute a significant change."??? REALLY?!?! Any judge that cannot see a significant difference between a plant and an animal needs to find another line of work.

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